Federal Manager's Daily Report

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A study has found a “small but statistically significant” increase in federal employees’ engagement with their work under career leadership vs. politically appointed leaders—an average difference between 66.1 and 62.1 over 2013-2020 in an index created in annual federal employee surveys.

The study – perhaps unsurprising for many federal employees that have experienced frequent turnover at the top in their agencies – was carried out by the Partnership for Public Service and the Boston Consulting Group. It suggested that reasons for lesser engagement could include (in the report’s words):

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• “Career senior executives tend to serve for longer periods of time and bring more stability to leadership tenure and teams . . . Previous studies have estimated that the average tenure of political appointees is 2.5 years, which can limit their ability to manage, motivate and empower their employees, leading to diminished engagement.”

• “Senate-confirmed appointees may see their mandates differently than a career counterpart due to their purpose of carrying out the president’s policy agenda. As a consequence, their goals diverge from the historical objectives of the organizations they oversee.”

• “Senate-confirmed appointees often bring leadership and innovative managerial experience with critical benefits to agencies at a crossroads. Career senior executives often contribute years of institutional knowledge and subject matter expertise to their roles, better positioning them to help their organizations effectively deliver on long-standing missions.”

• “Career senior executives often lead organizations with smaller workforces that may also be closer to day-to-day mission delivery. When employees feel aligned with the mission and can see the impact they are having on a regular basis, that can lead them to be more consistently engaged.”

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