A positive employee experience (EX) is essential to recruiting and retaining top talent in the federal government. Yet, to create that positive experience, federal employers must know their people – their needs, wants, challenges, goals, and more.
Currently, federal employers have one primary tool for understanding employees: The annual Federal Employee Viewpoints Survey (FEVS). The FEVS helps to assess and compare employees’ experiences working in federal agencies. It is a valuable tool, offering significant insight into federal employees’ engagement and supervisory relationships. However, its extended timeline for reporting results can present challenges, and due to the breadth of the survey, topics related to employee perception and connectedness can’t be covered in depth.
For example, the FEVS wasn’t designed to tackle questions like:
- How connected do you feel to your colleagues?
- How comfortable do you feel sharing problems or raising conflicts with your organization’s leadership?
- Do you feel like you can communicate with your organization’s leadership regularly about your needs?
- Do you feel like leadership treats all employees equally within your organization?
More than ever, federal employers need to be exploring questions like these with their workforce – and not just once a year and not solely using formal survey instruments. In light of recent disruption and change, employees crave authentic connection with their organization’s leadership and their colleagues. Yet, recent Accenture research found that only one in four public sector employees globally feel highly connected – in a human sense – at work.
People don’t want to be always connected to their work via technology. They want greater connection to each other, and for employers to recognize who they are and what they need as a person, not just as a job title or set of responsibilities. We call this omni-connection.
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Omni-connection is a cultural shift, enabled by a deep understanding of employees’ needs, as well as the implementation of new behaviors and equitable access to digital tools.
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Omni-connection aims to create a shared and equal experience, no matter when, where, and how an employee is working.
When organizations get this right, they can see improvements in their workforce metrics, including recruiting, retention, productivity, and mission fulfillment:
- Accenture’s research found that being omni-connected accounts for 59% of an employee’s intention to stay.
- People benefitting from omni-connected experiences are 29% more likely to experience a deeper level of trust toward their organization and team.
- Where there’s greater trust, people are 35% more likely to deliver high-quality work and nurture work relationships that, among other things, foster innovation.
In today’s talent market, employers must maintain equal focus on attracting new talent while also keeping the talent they already have; omni-connection is an essential lever in that equation.
Our research suggests that many organizations have room to improve. For example, just one in four people working across industries reported that leaders are responsive to their needs and communicate regularly and feel that team members are treated equally. Among those who work in the public sector globally, just one in six reported that level of satisfaction.
Federal agencies have traditionally been able to rely on mission alignment as a primary point of retention for employees, but that is no longer the case. Creating a unique and omni-connected employee experience is critical to remaining an employer of choice in a challenging talent market.
A framework for omni-connected EX
To foster omni-connection with the diverse and distributed federal workforce, agency leaders will need to commit to new, more frequent ways of understanding, interacting with and supporting their people. For most, that process will start with research to analyze existing data, both qualitative and quantitative, on a particular agency’s workforce and its connectedness. This research should explore people’s level of connection with their leaders, with the organization’s mission, and with their colleagues internally and across programs and agencies.
For example, we’ve worked with federal organizations to conduct nuanced assessments of employee engagement. We base our approach on the Net Better Off (NBO) framework. Using focus groups, leadership discussions, pulse surveys and surveys with open-ended questions, we help agencies study how their people feel supported across six key dimensions: employable, financial, relational, physical, purposeful, and emotional/mental. Our methods aim to understand an organization’s employees at a truly personal level.
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This approach can give federal employers a more robust understanding of the diverse needs of their workforce, so they can provide more personalized programming. Additionally, it can complement the FEVS, drawing connections between topics that may appear disparate on the annual survey and providing structure for greater understanding of and action on many data points.
Further assessment of employees’ experiences should then be conducted on a frequent, iterative basis, to ensure employers have the most up-to-date understanding.
Where to start
Agencies can take key actions now to better understand their people and foster omni-connection:
- Recognize there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Employers may look for a single standard – one metric or path to success for understanding their workforce and building a positive, omni-connected EX. But humans are complicated. A single agency’s workforce will be diverse in terms of people’s backgrounds, personalities, and day-to-day experiences. For example, remote vs. field workers will have very different expectations for EX. Across agencies, these differences can be even more pronounced.
Instead of searching for a single solution or data point around which to build efforts, employers should evaluate people’s multi-dimensional needs, which is possible using approaches such as the NBO framework mentioned above. These can provide more nuanced, adaptable solutions to work toward, and deeper insight into the opportunities and challenges specific to each agency.
- Test and scale. Federal leaders can make a business case for a greater focus on omni-connection by first experimenting through small-scale opportunities with sub-sections of the workforce; this can test and validate which strategies provide the most value. However, lasting change doesn’t manifest overnight. It takes time to build an omni-connected employee experience. Thus, prioritize building a long-term strategy that defines what is most important to your leadership and mission, and how you will measure progress and success. This strategy will likely need to adapt over time, but should be a North Star for the agency, to ensure employee experience remains a top priority.
- Institutionalize omni-connection as part of your culture. Building a truly omni-connected EX means embedding how we think about employee satisfaction into the very foundation of how an agency operates, rather than leaving it as a silo-ed HR effort. Doing so starts with an agency’s most senior leadership. They must invest in a new way of thinking, and actively foster an environment where people can contribute, feel seen, and have equal experiences. To create this environment, an agency must communicate consistently, prioritize access to digital tools, and ultimately put employees’ needs at the heart of day-to-day operations.
Assessing how federal workers are feeling about their work cannot be a once-a-year statistical endeavor.
To find and keep your talent, emphasize omni-connection: Build a culture that values frequent and equitable employee engagement and empowers employees with the digital tools and support they need to feel omni-connected, no matter their role. Doing so can improve results on the FEVS and ultimately strengthen federal employees’ sense of purpose and belonging – to their team, their agency, and the overall mission.
Thank you to Britaini Carroll and John York, Ph.D. for their contributions to this content.