Amid sky-high CEO pay and years of cutbacks and layoffs, employees in private corporations may not rate their leaders very highly these days. But they still get better marks than supervisors in the federal government, according to a newly released study by the Partnership for Public Service.
The findings, released Wednesday, examine the leadership scores of the Office of Personnel Management’s 2011 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and rank federal agencies by how well respondents felt their managers were doing their jobs. The results show that, government-wide, participants gave their organization’s leadership a score of just 54.9 out of 100. While that is higher than the year prior, it is still lower than the scores federal employees gave their agencies for categories such as pay, work/life balance and teamwork. In addition, the research shows that the federal government falls behind the private sector when it comes to what employees think of their leaders.
While a comprehensive comparison was not possible, the Partnership for Public Service highlighted the results of three leadership questions for which private-sector and public-sector data was available. All three showed higher scores for private-sector leaders.
The biggest gap appeared in response to a question about how satisfied employees feel about the information they get from their supervisors. On that issue, private-sector employees rated their leaders 14 points higher than government workers scored their managers. This comes as little surprise to Steve Ressler, the founder and president of GovLoop, a social network for government staffers.“That’s a common complaint” federal employees have, he says. “That’s one I hear too many times.”
Too many layers of management are the primary reason government agencies don’t share information as well as private-sector companies, which tend to have flatter hierarchies, says Paul C. Light, a professor at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. “Title creep continues unabated,” says Light, who has studied federal agency structure and wrote about it in his 1995 book, Thickening Government.
“At one time you were nobody if you didn’t have a chief of staff; now you’re nobody if you don’t have a deputy chief of staff.” With some agencies having as many as 64 layers of available jobs, by his last count, “it’s a glorified game of telephone,” Light says. “The structure itself is so mind-numbingly complicated that information gets lost and guidance gets missed on the way down.”
But bureaucratic management is just one reason communication can be worse for government staffers than for their corporate peers. Most agencies devote few resources to internal employee communications, says Ressler, putting their emphasis instead on external public and media relations. Add a cultural atmosphere that can be sensitive to sharing too much information and frequent turnover — Light says the average political appointee beneath the secretary’s post lasts just 18 to 24 months in the job — and it’s little wonder many employees feel left out of the loop.