Employee Engagement Contrast: James Bond vs. Federal Government Employees

After watching Skyfall over the weekend (for the fifth time, I might add), I was curious to understand more about the level of employee engagement among clandestine service agents, like those employed by James Bond’s MI6 and the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. After a quick search, I found the results from the 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey which includes responses from most employees of the US government.  Unfortunately, the publicly available results do not include CIA employee data.  The response I was greeted with when I called the Agency’s Office of Public Affairs to request employee survey data was less than accommodating.

Instead of trying to extrapolate the data for CIA employees for my own selfish interests, I’ll control myself and focus on the data available.  To throw in a bit of clandestine operative engagement data, I’ll also include my analysis (read: speculations) of the most recognizable (shouldn’t that be a bad thing?) master of espionage: James Bond.

The Employee Engagement Contrast

Before looking at the employee survey results, I had hypothesized that public-sector employees—like James Bond—must be some of the most engaged employees out there.  After all, wouldn’t the patriotism of these employees make them willing to exert extra effort to support the great cause of Democracy?  I was wrong.  Let’s examine the 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results using the DecisionWise ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® Employee Engagement framework.

Meaning—Questions like “The work I do is important,” should be answered with a resounding “YES!” from federal employees, right?  If not, then why in the world do I pay my taxes?  This survey item—though currently reported at 91.2 percent favorable—is experiencing a declining trend that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) deems significant.  One must question, however, whether employees responding to this question considered the fact that if an entire department responded negatively to this question, the department might be quickly done away with.  Just sayin’.

Bond, however, has plenty of meaning in his job.  Remember how quickly he responded when prompted with the “country” word association in Skyfall? He loves and honors his country; meaning comes naturally.

Autonomy—When faced with the statement, “[I] have a feeling of personal empowerment with respect to work processes,” federal employees responded with a dismal 45.2 percent favorable.  These scores are continuing to decline.

From the various Bond films, we can see that our favorite secret agent exercises a great deal of autonomy, often to the chagrin or disdain of his superiors.

Growth—Now here’s an interesting trend: from 2008 to 2010, most federal employees responded favorably to the statement, “I am given a real opportunity to improve my skills in my organization.”  From 2010 to 2011 ratings remained stagnant; in 2012, ratings were declining at about 2 percent annually.

Growth for Bond?  Check.  With his missions becoming increasingly complex—and his targets increasingly menacing—Bond has a very high-growth job.  His skills and abilities are constantly tried, tested, and augmented.

Impact—Despite the variety of important functions federal employees perform every day—many of which directly correlate with the United States’ national security (even when threatened by Dennis Rodman)—employees responded apathetically to the statement, “My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment,” with only about 70 percent responding favorably.  Remember, this means that nearly one-third feel little, if any, personal accomplishment in their work.

By pursuing global conflicts and eliminating key targets, Bond continues to serve and protect the citizens of England.  His impact is felt by all, as his work directly contributes to his nation’s security.  Impact?  Definitely.

Connection—I’ll have you know that it took quite an effort to even pinpoint a question on the survey that directly related to connection.  Some survey items focused on a connection between an employee’s duties and the organization’s mission, but no single question targeted the necessary social connection employees must have to be engaged in their jobs.  The closest we could come to was, “I have trust and confidence in my supervisor,” at just 65 percent favorability.  Scores for this question are currently experiencing a bearish trend.

Every Bond film has its scantily clad provocatrix who provides Bond with gratuitous levels of, well, social connection.  Bond loves the ladies; his love is even manifest in his bittersweet relationship with M.  High marks for connection.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the same federal employees who work to protect my health and safety are, on average, incredibly disengaged in their jobs.  I should also mention that the response rate to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey was only at about 46 percent (ouch). Where is James Bond when I need him?

What are we to make of these public-sector employee-survey findings?  If you were the working for the OPM (assuming you had some favorable degree of autonomy), what would be the first element of ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® you would seek to improve, to bolster engagement?  Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Read more about our experience working with public-sector employees in the article Halting the Engagement Exodus.

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