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The Causes of Low Employee Engagement in Government

Employee engagement is one of the primary metrics for federal HR programs – especially as recent research has shown just how much of an impact it can have on productivity and performance levels. But what does engagement entail and why it is consistently so low, especially for government employees? 

The Importance of Engagement for Government Employees

Engagement refers to a number of factors that influence and are influenced by employees each day. It includes things like the connection that employees have to their workplace, the mission of the work they perform and their relationships with their co-workers. An engaged employee is someone who not only likes what they do, but feels pride in the final product, and wants to find new and ever-better ways to do it. They feel valued in the workplace and want to perform at a level that reflects their feeling of appreciation. 

Recent studies, including a book by Robert J. Lavigna, Engaging Government Employees, shows that there is a direct link between improved engagement and better performance, which in turns leads to higher satisfaction in the customer (citizens), and greater trust in government. This makes it easier for people in the public sector to feel good about what they are doing. It’s a cycle, but it all starts with engagement.

>>> Download the eBook on How Operational Support Technology Closes Efficiency Gaps in Federal HR.

How Employee Engagement is Measured in Government


There are several ways to measure engagement. Third-party and outside polls look at a variety of factors, but we get a good sense from the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), which asks employees to provide feedback on the workplace, their role there, and their overall feeling about the job they perform. Derived from the results of 485,000 survey responses, the FEVS Employee Engagement Index (EEI) is a measure of the overall work environment of an agency.

It breaks down three subcategories, including: 

  • Leaders Lead – This refers to the employees’ perceptions of the integrity of overall leadership and has increased only slightly in recent years to a score of 55 in 2017 – the lowest of the three.
  • Supervisors – This reflects the relationships between workers and their direct supervisors and similarly has increased only slightly, but with a higher overall score than the others at 74.
  • Intrinsic Work Experience – This is in relation to their feelings of competency and motivation in the workplace and sits at 71 in 2017.

Overall engagement in 2017 was scored at 67, an increase of two points since 2014, and a consistent increase since 2014. The larger the agency, the lower this number tends to be, though, and the greater impact it has on performance as a result. 

How to Address Low Employee Engagement

If an organization has an EEI below the average or if it consistently remains static, despite efforts to act on FEVS data and employee input, there are several options to consider.

Low employee engagement can be addressed in several ways. It starts with more targeted training and professional development that is designed to guide employees in improving key competencies while developing new skills that complement their career path. To better measure engagement and evaluate data received by all agencies via the FEVS each year, new technology is needed that can determine the key driving factors behind survey responses. With better analytics, HR specialists can drill down to understand what impacts engagement both positively and negatively and make changes accordingly.

To learn more, read about EconSys SkillsNavigator and our FEVS evaluation tools on our website, or read more about the impact of Operational Support technology for your agency in our eBook, How Operational Support Technology Closes Efficiency Gaps in Federal HR.