A Playbook for User-Centered Hiring

A new analysis of government hiring found the “very people they need to make government more responsive to the public are the people driven away by the poor user experience.” …  Hiring managers routinely complain about the lack of qualified candidates for positions. Code for America saw this as a problem because in order for governments to serve the American public in the 21st century, the nonprofit believes governments need to be able to recruit 21st century talent. So, in the fall of 2016, Code for America started investigating ways governments could meet that challenge, by launching a talent initiative to study roadblocks governments face when trying to recruit the best talent for these positions. By interviewing 28 people in all parts of the job seeking process, from those who have a job in government to those considering a job in government, the study identified some common themes preventing good people from applying and getting jobs in government. For more, click here.

Do any of the common themes identified in this article prevent good people from applying and getting in your agency or organization? Would using a user-centered, data-driven approach to hiring help your agency better hire the employees it needs to accomplish its mission? If you were CHCO, how would you apply the information in this article to your organization’s hiring policies?

Job Restructuring as Reasonable Accommodation

An often perplexing and frustrating area of the law for federal managers is disability discrimination and reasonable accommodations. As the law has evolved, so too has the federal workforce and employee medical impairments. More often today, employees–whether veterans suffering from the non-obvious mental impairments associated with post-traumatic stress disorder or aging federal workers plagued with a whole host of physiological maladies–cannot simply be accommodated with wheelchair ramps, ergonomic desk chairs, or adjusted schedules.

With the prevalence of physical and mental impairments in the workplace, it is easy for a federal manager to unknowingly discriminate against a disabled employee by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation. To read this article, click here.

In part 2 of his series on job restructuring, the author explores how job restructuring could affect other employees. To read this follow-up article, click here.

In what ways have you seen your agency meet their reasonable accommodation responsibilities?

Have you seen co-workers asked to shoulder heavier workloads to accommodate a disabled employee? Has such action affected morale or accomplishment of the agency mission? How has management countered any unintended negative effects?

Probationary Periods: A Missed Opportunity to Address Poor Performance

In its recently released report on poor performers in Government, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended more effective use of the probationary period to identify and remove individuals who are unlikely to be good performers. GAO recommended that agencies consider doing more to ensure that supervisors have the opportunity to intercede before an individual completes a probationary period and that OPM and possibly Congress consider whether longer probationary periods might be appropriate for some positions[1].

MSPB’s extensive research over the past decade supports these recommendations. In a 2009 survey, we asked proposing and deciding officials for adverse actions whether the individual in question demonstrated during the probationary period that he or she was a good employee. Only 56% of those with knowledge of the individual during that period agreed the individual had shown good signs at that time. Thus, it appears that some of these adverse actions could have been avoided by better use of the probationary period.

We also conducted a survey of supervisors of probationary employees, discussed in our 2005 report, The Probationary Period: A Critical Assessment Opportunity. Of those supervisors who admitted that they would not select the person again if they could do it over, ….

To continue reading this article, click here.


The How and Why of an Effective Performance Improvement Plan

As explained in our [MSPB’s] 2009 report, Poor Performers and the Law, title 5 of the U.S. Code currently provides two avenues by which agencies can demote or remove poor performers. The first avenue is codified in Chapter 43, while the second is in Chapter 75. Chapter 43 requires that agencies offer assistance to employees in an attempt to improve their unacceptable performance prior to implementing a performance-based adverse action[1]. Chapter 75 does not require agencies to provide such assistance. However, under Chapter 75, an adverse action’s reasonableness depends, in part, on the extent to which the employee was on notice of the required behaviors[2]. Therefore, a performance improvement plan (PIP) and a reasonable period of time to improve under the plan is necessary under Chapter 43, and can be helpful under Chapter 75.

An effective PIP will typically: …..

To continue reading this article, click here.

Did any of this content surprise you? Have you seen it put into practice? What would you emphasize if you were advising a supervisor on the use of a performance improvement plan?

Federal Employee Retention: If We Hire Them, Can We Keep Them?

Many observers wonder whether the Federal Government will be able to recruit the people needed to replace retiring employees and fill new roles and positions. However, recruitment is only one battle in the war for talent. A well-written job announcement, a rigorous assessment program, and a timely job offer do little good if a new hire does not stay to make a measurable contribution. This article offers some suggestions for agencies seeking to retain and engage new employees, based on a look at new hires in 2011 and 2012.

  • There is reason for optimism—but not complacency. As shown in the table below, most new Federal employees appear willing to give the Federal Government a chance to make its case as an employer—at least for the short term. Among the more than 300,000 new hires appointed in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, 91% were on the rolls one year after appointment…..

To continue reading this article, click here.

What do you think? Do you agree with the suggestions this article provides for agencies?

Help Your Team Manage Stress, Anxiety, and Burnout

Given the current environment in the federal HR world, it is increasingly difficult to manage the demands of work. In this article, Harvard Business Review provides some suggestions that can be employed by both the supervisor and the individual employee.

Help Your Team Manage Stress, Anxiety, and Burnout

What do you think? Which of these recommendations do you think would be helpful in your work environment? Which are unrealistic? What do you think your supervisor would say if you forwarded this article to him/her?



Understanding Job Satisfaction

Three key factors may explain why some agencies rate better than others.

Job satisfaction is fast becoming a key indicator in how agencies measure whether or not they are an “employer of choice.” The Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) report, What Do Federal Employees Say?, indicates that 68 percent of respondents to the latest Human Capital Survey were satisfied with their jobs. This was a slightly lower percentage than found for private sector employees where, on average, 71 percent were satisfied.

When the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) asked a similar question on each of its last four Merit Principles Surveys, overall job satisfaction varied only slightly—from a high of 72 percent in 1992 to a low of 67 percent in 2000. What was perhaps more noteworthy was the fact that there was considerably greater job satisfaction for employees in some agencies than in others. Given that the overall year-to-year variation in job satisfaction is small, why was there greater variation among individual agencies?

To answer this question, we analyzed the results from our Merit Principles Surveys to see if we could better understand what factors contribute to overall job satisfaction. We found three key dimensions to job satisfaction among our respondents. These are, in order of importance:

1        The match between the person and the job.

2        The extent to which employees believe they are respected for what they do.

3        The extent to which employees believe they are well managed.

By far, the most influential factor in job satisfaction appears to be the degree to which employees think their job makes good use of their skills and abilities. This was closely followed by the extent to which employees think the work they perform is meaningful. If employees believe their work and the work of their agency is important and makes good use of their skills, there is a very high likelihood they will be satisfied with their job—even if they are not as positive about other aspects of the job.

The next major component of satisfaction appears to be whether employees believe they are treated with respect. Higher job satisfaction is associated with working conditions where employees believe their opinions count and where they receive recognition for the work they perform.

The third component of job satisfaction is related to how well an organization is managed. This component does not seem to work in isolation from job fit and respect. In other words, a well-managed organization does not translate into high job satisfaction scores in the absence of a good match between employees and the job, or under conditions where employees do not feel respected for what they do.

However, poor management can undermine job satisfaction among employees who would otherwise be content with the conditions of their employment. Put another way, while good managers by themselves do not ensure that employees will be satisfied with their jobs, poor managers can easily drive away employees who are otherwise happy with the work they do.

All of this leads back to our original question—why is there noticeable variation in employee job satisfaction scores among different agencies? Our data indicate that each of the three factors discussed above play a role. Differences in agency missions, for instance, might explain differences in overall satisfaction. Agencies that have a clear and compelling mission can probably attract applicants who believe in that mission. Those individuals then have a good chance of making job decisions that allow them to follow their interests and make good use of their talents. But keep in mind, the prospects for high job satisfaction can be easily undermined by working conditions that convey either a lack of respect for the employee or poor management.¯

Reprinted from Issues of Merit, a publication of the Office of Policy and Evaluation, U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.

360-Degree Feedback: For Development or Evaluation? You Make the Call

360-degree feedback is a process in which an employee’s supervisor, peers, direct reports, and sometimes customers and suppliers, provide input about the employee’s work behaviors. The most common format is a questionnaire about the employee’s demonstration of critical competencies. Feedback is summarized for the employee in the form of both numerical ratings and narrative comments. The information provided by the raters is usually anonymous except for the feedback provided by the employee’s direct supervisor.

The application of 360° feedback can be divided into two broad categories: (1) employee development and (2) employee evaluation. Employee development applications include individual development planning, coaching and career counseling. The objective is to help the employee understand both strengths and developmental needs from the varying perspectives of the raters and provide an impetus to improve personal performance. Employee evaluation applications include performance appraisal, succession planning, and selection. The objective is to assess employees’ performance for annual appraisal or to select employees for jobs or special opportunities.

Organizations need to carefully consider their goals and organizational culture, as well as legal and ethical issues, before deciding how to apply 360° feedback. The considerations summarized below are based on recognized 360° research in organizations.

Employee Development Applications

• Raters are assured of anonymity. No records are kept of individual ratings. When raters believe they are anonymous, they provide more accurate ratings.

• Raters provide more candid feedback than for evaluation-type applications.

• Raters distinguish between different behaviors of the target employee, allowing the employee to better identify areas for development.

• Employees focus on the overall developmental value of the feedback rather than on numerical ratings.

• Participants are more comfortable with the process, more satisfied with it, and more trusting of their coworkers than when 360s are used for evaluation.

Employee Evaluation Applications

• When a 360 instrument is intended for performance appraisal or selection, the organization must be able to prove that the ratings are a valid and reliable indicator of the employee’s performance, i.e., that high 360 ratings correlate with demonstrated high performance and low 360 ratings correlate with demonstrated low performance.

• If 360 ratings are used to make personnel decisions, specific raters and their ratings must be identifiable in the event of an investigation or law suit.

• Raters for 360 evaluation applications tend to distinguish less among specific behaviors, using an overall impression to color responses.

• Research shows that raters tend to inflate their ratings for evaluation-type applications.

• Disgruntled raters may negatively distort ratings to “get back” at someone for real or imagined slights.

• Conscious or unconscious discrimination may occur based on personal prejudices of gender, race, or other personal characteristics not related to performance.

• Employees often focus more on which rater might have said what and on the numerical ratings rather than on the developmental value of the input.

• Evaluative applications can damage morale, teamwork and employee trust.

• If 360 feedback is used to appraise performance for supervisors and managers, they may avoid managing people appropriately due to concerns about obtaining favorable ratings from direct reports.

Development or Evaluation, But Not Both

The same 360 feedback process should not be used for both development and evaluation. The decision about how the feedback will be applied must be made when it is designed. The behaviors of raters and ratees differ with each application, and the basic premise of the ratings differs. For development, raters need to consider only the relative strengths and development needs of the individual employee. When a 360 tool is used for evaluation, raters need to differentiate among all the employees rated because decisions are made in which some employees receive “more “ of something based on the raters’ input, such as a higher appraisal rating, more pay or an opportunity. Because of these factors, organizations must be prepared to provide a strong foundation for the process before implementing 360 feedback, particularly when used as part of the formal evaluation process. It is especially critical that organizations clearly identify what they are trying to achieve. ¯

Reprinted from Issues of Merit, a publication of the Office of Policy and Evaluation, U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.

Generations Apart: Or Are We?

Differences in generational expectations are not so distinct as some may think.

The issue of generational differences is getting more and more attention these days from the popular press. Researchers claim that there are significant differences between younger and older employees in what motivates them, the level of commitment they invest in organizations, and the expectations they have for their employers. Many researchers have proposed that differences between these groups require that supervisors use separate management strategies for each. Given that supervisors already have quite a bit on their plates, we decided to test this theory to see how it plays out in the Federal workforce.

Using Merit Principles Survey data, we compared responses across generations to see if any significant differences were present. We simplified the analysis by grouping Yers with Xers (together, born after 1960) and Traditionalists with Boomers (born 1960 and before) because the population of each of the former groups was too small to draw significant conclusions. Here, we compare our survey findings against some of the widely held beliefs about the differences between these generations.

Belief: Money motivates younger generations while civic duty motivates older generations.

Finding: When asked to identify the three factors that motivate them most to do a good job, both groups cited the same top two factors: 1) the desire to make a contribution, and 2) personal pride or satisfaction in their work. Increased chances of promotion (which may, for some, translate into money) came in third for the younger group and civic duty was the third most important factor for older employees.

Belief: Younger generations, as opposed to older generations, will not stay with the Federal Government for their entire career.

Finding: We found it is true that younger Federal employees expect to leave Government before they are eligible to retire—almost three times as many Generation X and Y employees as Boomers and Traditionalists. However, only about one-third of the X/Yers say this is likely, which is a smaller number than many researchers would have expected.

Belief: Younger generations want different things in terms of their job and benefits.

Finding: Our survey results indicate that younger and older generations have much more in common in terms of why they stay or leave the Government. The two groups identified the same top three reasons they would retire from or quit their job—a desire to make better use of their skills, increase advancement opportunities, and earn more money.

The two groups also agreed that Federal benefit programs are the most important reason for staying in their jobs. Job security and pay were the next most important to Generation X and Y. Pay and current job duties were the next most important to Traditionalists and Boomers. On the other hand, workplace and family-friendly flexibilities appear more important to Generations X and Y than they are to Traditionalists and Boomers. In particular, Generation X and Y rated child care referral and onsite child care, telecommuting, part-time work, and elder care referrals as more important than the other age group did.

These findings indicate that different generations of civil servants are similarly interested in serving the public and making a difference. At the same time, they also want a work environment that provides advancement opportunities, good benefits, and job security. Although there are some variations between the groups, these might be better explained by circumstance rather than fundamental differences. A younger employee with a new baby would likely value child care benefits more than an employee with school-aged children. Or an employee with 25 years left in her career is more likely to anticipate leaving an employer than an employee who already has 25 years of service.

These findings lead us to caution agencies about getting caught up in the management flavor of the month. Good management practices for one generation might also mean good management practices for another. ¯

Reprinted from Issues of Merit, a publication of the Office of Policy and Evaluation, U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.

The Crucial First Year in Federal Employment–A Time For New Approaches

In this fedsmith.com article, Robbie Kuenther discusses use of the probationary period to affirm the decision to hire since “…the selection process is fallible. The best resume and interview do not always predict the best person available for that position. Once we observe their interpersonal skills, willingness to accept direction (or work without direction), ability to manage job stress, etc. our impressions of that individual may change for the worse. That’s why management is given up to one year to finalize their initial decision to hire. Every day a probationer comes to work (or doesn’t), the decision to hire can be reaffirmed or reversed.”


In your HR or supervisory career, have you seen probationary periods used effectively? Have you watched potentially good employees terminated or an agency saddled with a problem employee because of a supervisor’s inaction? Share your experiences with us here.