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Army employees more satisfied

After challenging year, Army posts high marks in civilian employee survey

Robert Winchel, left, a managed care analyst at Madigan Army Medical Center, was selected as the U.S. Army Medical Command's civilian of the year Oct. 1, 2020. Photo by Christopher Larsen.

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WASHINGTON - In a year where the Army overcame numerous challenges, it also achieved its best overall ratings ever in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, a top Army civilian personnel leader said March 3.

The service posted an employee engagement index rate of 72.7% in fiscal year 2020, up three percentage points from the previous year and saw its biggest increase in the leaders lead category, which at 62.7% marked a 3.5% increase from 2019. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management released the results in January after distributing the survey in the fall.

"When the numbers first started rolling out, I was extremely excited by the high response rate year over year, especially in this COVID year," said Todd Fore, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for civilian personnel. "But I really think what is key is the engagement of our leadership at all levels, because they really do care about the feedback that they are receiving."

The Army also had an increase in its global satisfaction index at 69%. The category measures federal employees' overall satisfaction with their job, pay and organization. About 70% of Army civilians said that they would recommend their organization to others, up from 68% the previous year.

"Those are very, very, very good numbers across government (organizations), but exceptional in large organizations," Fore said. "I think it is incredible that we have such a high response rate across the department."

According to the survey, which OPM made available to full-time and part-time, permanent Army civilians, 45% of the Army's more than 184,000 employees participated in it.

Fore said that the Army has seen the employee engagement index increase in each of the past six years due to supervisors communicating more effectively with Army employees. The Army also published an employee engagement guide for supervisors and leaders and hosted listening sessions for civilian employees.

"Our employee engagement activities have enabled us to not only communicate to employees, but actually to hear what employees have to say," Fore said.

Communication methods revamped

In 2020, the Army evolved the way it communicates with its employees in large part because of the coronavirus pandemic. As the nation's largest military branch, communication had been an area where the Army struggled, Fore said.

But the ability to communicate has improved in recent years and the global pandemic opened the need to make contact more effectively.

When the Army began stay-at-home orders in March 2020, leaders had to open more lines of communication including using virtual options as many of its soldiers and civilians had to work from home or were separated from their units. To achieve mission requirements, supervisors have used virtual means such as online conferences and chat rooms to reach employees.

"I think we've really upped our game in communication," Fore said. "I believe that COVID has enabled us to talk to employees at a different level. And since we're all using various forms of technology, I think our communication and outreach for employees has actually improved."

Fore said the survey revealed the Army's strengths in managing its civilian workers and areas where it needs to improve. The Army looks to build up on its strong points: work-life balance, merit system principles, performance recognition, performance feedback, training and development, and job resources.

Fore said performance recognition has become an increasingly strong point as the Army has transitioned to giving performance-related awards throughout a work cycle instead of at the end.

Fore said the Army's Civilian Implementation Plan, or CIP, as well as the Army People Strategy, has had an impact on the service's civilian workforce in encouraging them to seek career advancement opportunities. The CIP is the Army's effort to augment and enhance the contributions of its civilian workforce by modernizing talent management policies and activities.

Fore added that the opening of the Army Civilian Career Management Activity, or ACCMA, in October has helped reach employees at the strategic level. ACCMA will help Army recruiting and retention attract qualified candidates to critical positions that have been challenging to fill.

The Army still has areas where it must continue to improve, Fore said, including in diversity and inclusion. Listening sessions are now being held at various installations as part of Project Inclusion, the service's plan to listen to the concerns of Army personnel to promote diversity and equal opportunities not only for soldiers but also their civilian counterparts.

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