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The Analytics That Matter Most to Federal Mission Success

The Analytics That Matter Most to Federal Mission Success

by Rob DeSimone

A worrying trend in U.S. government workplaces is thwarting mission success: Government agencies are neglecting to meet the emotional needs of their employees.

After spiking briefly in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, engagement among federal and state employees retreated in 2021 and has stagnated since. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) confirms this trend.1


Gallup defines employee engagement as workers’ involvement in and enthusiasm for their work and workplace. This definition goes beyond measures of job satisfaction or workplace experience. Gallup has defined 12 elements of engagement that predict team performance outcomes such as productivity, employee retention, safety and quality.

Disruption to the work environment can help explain the stagnation in engagement: Managers and employees alike have grappled with how to work optimally in the hybrid or remote work era. Workers are demanding greater flexibility in their work environment -- yet, in-person collaboration is crucial for performance in several roles. Striking the balance between flexibility and performance is a challenge for many in government.

The Risk of Stagnating Engagement: Increased Attrition

Federal government leaders urgently need to redouble their focus on employee engagement. Why? Because employees who are not engaged risk leaving their agency. Gallup research indicates that nearly half of government employees have been either looking for or actively seeking a new job since 2021.

Employee engagement is a key driver of staff retention. A 2020 Gallup meta-analysis compared highly engaged business units (those in the top engagement quartile of the organization) with bottom-quartile business units and found several differences in business outcomes -- among them, 18% in turnover (for high-turnover organizations) and 43% in turnover (for low-turnover organizations).2

One of the most common barriers to engagement in government workplaces is unclear role expectations. Less than half of government employees (42%) know what is expected of them at work. While employees may be clear about specific, functional tasks they must perform, many are lacking the clarity that comes from relationships and collaboration with others on their team and in other departments. Employees often do not understand where these relationships fit in the bigger picture, with whom they need to collaborate or even who their key stakeholders are.

Trust in leadership and employees’ perceptions of the organization’s care for their wellbeing are two additional factors affecting employee retention.

Employees who trust their leaders are 61% more likely to stay with their organization and not look for another job. Meanwhile, employees who strongly agree that their organization cares about their wellbeing are 69% less likely to search for a new job, 71% less likely to report experiencing a lot of burnout and five times more likely to recommend their organization as a place to work.

The Federal Government Opportunity: The Manager

How can federal government agency leaders foster employee trust, demonstrate they care about their wellbeing and increase their engagement? One of Gallup’s most profound discoveries is the crucial role of the manager in driving team engagement. In fact, managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement.

Managers need to cascade messages from leadership about key initiatives in a way that helps employees understand how their role connects to the agency’s broader mission and advise them on how to collaborate with other teams and departments. Managers also need to ensure that their team’s wellbeing is linked to team expectations and leadership initiatives. All of this creates a workplace culture that fosters a positive employee experience and greater trust in leadership -- and increases the likelihood that employees will stick around.

Context for Leaders on Managers

Expectation setting, vision casting, developing trust and retaining people are important tasks for managers, but government manager training programs often focus on technical skills or administrative tasks. Managers need leadership support to learn how to develop, motivate and engage teams. Among all employees, managers are the most likely to suffer from burnout.

Manager pressures come from all directions:

  • Managers receive key objectives and mandates from leadership and are expected to act on them. In federal agencies, these requests often come in a swift tempo.
  • Managers must deal with employees who have rising expectations about purpose and development -- and who perceive their manager as key to enabling both.
  • Managers may be struggling with their own engagement. Stress factors such as an intense workload, unclear expectations, unreasonable deadlines or too many direct reports can be sources of disengagement.
  • Managers increasingly must manage employees working remotely, in hybrid environments or in separate locations. This complicates how managers must communicate with their teams and demands their extra focus and intention.

Leaders should be aware of these pressures and be on the lookout for signs of burnout among their managerial staff. By providing proper communication and support, leadership can ensure managers are well equipped to lead and engage their teams.

What direction should federal government leaders give to managers? When the organization considers people to be a strategic priority, performance improves. Even in the face of shifting federal government priorities, a consistent focus on an agency’s people advances its mission.

When leaders strategically commit to engaging their people and claim and reinforce it through manager development and integrating people strategy with the agency’s annual operating plan, managers will make supporting and developing their team members a top priority.

When leadership’s strategic commitment is a reality, engagement will no longer stagnate. Improved employee engagement transforms every employee’s experience, the workplace and the agency’s ability to meet its objectives.

Be a leader who commits to engaging their people.



Rob DeSimone is a Senior Consultant at Gallup.

James Rapinac contributed to this article.

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