Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Employee Engagement Using the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Employee Engagement Using the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey

Article excerpt

The U.S. federal government employs over 2 million people in over 80 agencies outside of the uniformed military and the Intelligence community. Seeking to address employee engagement among this massive workforce, the government's human resources agency, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), has routinely surveyed government employees on their level of engagement, which they define using characteristics of employees, such as employees who increase revenue and demonstrate high energy, attachment, and commitment (U.S. Office of Personnel Management [USOPM], 2014).

Among organizational leaders, engagement is also typically defined by the characteristics of engaged employees, as opposed to defining the construct itself, which introduces a lack of clarity and precision (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, & Podsakoff, 2016). For example, Mathews (2010) described engagement as employees who

   take pride in their organization and work; take ownership of
   projects; talk positively about themselves, their employer and the
   goods and services they help deliver; view working for their
   organization as a career, not just a job; and, above all, perform
   better, (p. 29)

Although these characteristics sound beneficial, they say nothing about what exactly engagement is. In contrast, scholars within academic circles define engagement as the "harnessing of the organizational members' selves in their work roles" (Kahn, 1990, p. 694), manifesting in affective, cognitive, and physical activities. The academic orientation is toward defining the construct rather than its outcomes, in an effort to promote precision and delineation from other similar but distinct constructs (Podsakoff et al., 2016).

OPM's definition of engagement serves as an example of a common divergence between how engagement is defined in practice versus science. Though discrepancies between science and practice are to be expected given their different objectives (Macey & Schneider, 2008), as interest in employee engagement increases, scholars of the construct combat growing criticism of inconsistent definitions and inadequate measurement within and across the science-practice divide (e.g., Masson, Royal, Agnew, & Fine, 2008; Newman & Harrison, 2008). As noted by Macey and Schneider (2008), practitioners and academicians conceptualize engagement differently, yet similarly aim to identify levers and outcomes of engagement.

Given the number of federal employees who complete OPM's engagement survey (n = 392,752 in 2014) annually, and the hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries of government services across the United States, OPM has far-reaching capacity to disseminate its view of engagement. To advance recent efforts to bring science and practice a little closer together within the engagement literature (Van Rooy, Whitman, Hart, & Caleo, 2011), we chose to examine OPM's practice-oriented conceptualization of engagement relative to a prominent research-oriented conceptualization (i.e., Kahn, 1990).

We separate ourselves in several ways from previous researchers using and examining the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), OPM's annual employee survey that includes an index of engagement (FEVS-EEI) made up of three subfactors (Leaders Lead, Supervisors, Intrinsic Work Experience). First, we focus on the engagement index only, which heretofore has not been done (Fernandez, Resh, Moldogazlev, & Oberfield, 2015). Using the 2014 FEVS data made public by OPM, we first confirm their three-factor structure for the engagement index. We chose the 2014 data because of the stability in the government relative to 2013 involving a government sequestration, and 2015, which was the year before a presidential election. Second, we collected a new sample of field data assessing the FEVS-EEI in addition to theoretically proposed antecedents and consequences of engagement, such as transformational leadership, psychological meaningfulness, and turnover intentions. …

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