Fedweek

Washington, DC - March 2020: A pedestrian crosses a nearly empty Pennsylvania Ave near the US Capitol Building, seen nearly empty during the morning rush hour after DC Mayor Muriel Bowser closed all nonessential businesses to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

In both the government-wide survey conducted last fall and in a more recent “pulse” survey the administration conducted, federal employees expressed safety concerns regarding “reentry” from maximum telework and the information they are receiving about it.

Those concerns come as agencies continue to bring more employees back to regular worksites from telework and for more days a week, amid competing pressures. Many in Congress — mostly Republicans but also some Democrats — have been pressing agencies to do it faster and more extensively.

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Meanwhile, federal unions have complained that some agencies are calling back teleworkers unnecessarily and are not taking their views into account — a notable contrast with the generally supportive relationship between the two during the Biden administration.

In the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, just 62 percent responded positively to a new statement “in plans to return more employees to the worksite, my organization has made employee safety a top priority.” Also, the positive response to “my organization’s senior leaders support policies and procedures to protect employee health and safety” fell to 75 percent from the 82 percent of 2020, while the positive response to the similar statement “my organization’s senior leaders demonstrate commitment to employee health and safety” fell from 81 to 74. Mirroring data previously released by some individual agencies, the survey also showed that employees have a higher opinion of their immediate supervisors than of upper management in that area.

The pulse survey, taken in late March, included a similar statement – “I trust agency leadership to do what’s right to protect employees’ health, safety and wellbeing” — but that survey assigns scores on a scale of 1 to 5 ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. In results newly posted from the March poll, the figure was 3.6, about mid-way between neutral and slightly agree.

Meanwhile, the FEVS last fall included a new statement of “my organization’s senior leaders provide effective communications about what to expect with the return to the physical worksite,” yielding a 62 percent positive response. In the pulse survey, a similar statement of “return to work timelines are being communicated clearly by agency leadership” yielded a score of 3.7; a posting on performance.gov said that 65 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed, almost the same as in the FEVS.

On the positive side, over the course of three pulse surveys starting last October, scores have risen slightly to 3.5 and 3.6 on two other issues related to reentry — reasonableness of the workload and having the resources needed to do the job “within current return-to-work arrangements.”

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