Survey results reflect experiences with remote working and other pandemic issues, OPM says

OPM has stated that the declining scores of federal employee job satisfaction and engagement—particularly with respect to the former—in the 2021 Federal Employee Survey results reflect to some extent the impact of changing policies regarding telecommuting and other pandemic-related issues.

Both the 2020 and 2021 polls were conducted in the fall, after the pandemic delayed the first from its previous late spring period. When the survey was conducted last fall, most agencies had pulled back from the previous year’s record levels of telecommuting.

The proportion of employees not teleworking at all increased from 28 to 31 percent, while the proportion who telecommuted daily fell from 47 to 36 percent, and the proportion who “rarely” did so rose from 4 to 9 percent .

OPM said that “teleworking is positively associated with higher scores” on these indices and “decreases in teleworking may be associated with a decrease in these scores.”

OPM also said that when the last survey was conducted, “the pandemic continued for a second year, beyond what was initially expected. The challenges of the pandemic have taken a toll on all aspects of everyone’s life.”

It added: “These factors are complicated by large-scale shifts in workplace context, as many agency leaders explore and implement hybrid work models (i.e., a mix of work arrangements, including on-site, remote, and schedule flexibilities). Managers and supervisors learn to manage employees who work in changing and possibly changing locations.

“Employees are facing a change in the number of employees who may have been working as some move from maximum remote working to a mix of teleworking and remote work. As agencies develop new hybrid work models and/or return fully to the physical workplace, all federal employees are in a learning mode. Change can be tough and stressful, and a hallmark of 2021 has been frequent and continuous change.”

Findings for other questions related to workplace change included positive responses related to management’s commitment to employee health and safety falling from 81 to 74 percent; and from 73 to 65 percent on confidence that the organization will respond effectively to future emergencies based on its handling of the pandemic.

Recent questions about whether the organization has made employee safety a top priority when it comes to return-to-the-office plans and whether leadership is keeping employees informed of those plans resulted in affirmative responses of 62 and 65 percent, respectively.

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