Managers Can Fire Bad Feds, They Just Don’t

Federal managers could easily fire most poor performing employees early in their career, they just don’t. They also could quickly remove new supervisors from positions for which they turn out to be ill suited and return them to the non-supervisory roles at which they excelled. But they rarely do. That’s according to research compiled by the Merit Service Protection Board and released Tuesday.

In “Adverse Actions: The Rules and the Reality,” MSPB aims to give federal managers a guide to better managing the workforce by more quickly shedding poor performers.

For starters, new employees and new supervisors almost always serve in a probationary capacity for one or two years. During that time, they can be fired with no advance notice and very limited or no right of appeal, depending on the position.  (For more, click here.)

Do hiring managers at your agency use the probationary period as intended? What situations have you seen where proper use of probation would have eliminated a performance or disciplinary problem before it mushroomed?


OPM’s Guidance on Firing Bad Employees Will Remind You That It’s Complicated

The Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday reminded federal managers that they have several tools at their disposal to discipline poor performers or employees engaged in misconduct.

OPM released 22-page guidance — not intended to be “comprehensive” — outlining the various disciplinary procedures for Title 5 employees, depending on whether the issue is performance-related, or a result of misconduct. The guidance walks agencies through the proper steps, including notification and documentation, required for suspending, reassigning, demoting and firing employees and members of the Senior Executive Service.

“Maximizing employee performance and addressing misconduct, when appropriate, is a critical responsibility of managers and supervisors,” wrote acting OPM Director Beth Cobert in an accompanying memorandum. “If the available management tools are used appropriately and when needed, managers and supervisors have an opportunity to deter future performance or misconduct challenges, and employees have an opportunity to improve their performance or correct their behavior, all of which will benefit the agency.”

The OPM guidance, as government documents go, is pretty informative and jargon-free. But the guidance, which outlines an extensive process for many disciplinary actions, also is a … (For more, click here.)

Have you ever been involved in having to deal with misconduct or poor performance? What tips would you have for others having to do the same?

Beware Attempting to Fix a Difficult Employee

New(er) managers often step all over this issue of fixing people. I know I did. Twice. Both situations ended in disasters. The lesson: it’s never your job to fix a difficult employee.

It turns out that regardless of your great intentions, powers of moral suasion, and investment in time, sweat, and tears, you cannot fix a person. The individual in question has to want to change. You can set the stage and provide the opportunities, but you have a lot less influence on this situation than you might think. (For more, click here.)

Do you agree with what the author says he should have done in the case he describes? Do you agree with his statement that “You are not in the business of fixing people. You are accountable for driving results.”?

3 Ideas for Dealing with Problem Employees

Three recent publications raised the issue of dealing with problem employees. The Office of Personnel Management released the results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, highlighting the perception among employees that their agencies do not do enough to deal with problem employees.  The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a report, Tables of Penalties: Examining Sexual Misconduct in the Federal Workplace and Lax Federal Responses, that addressed inconsistencies in and among agencies on dealing with problem employees, in general and specifically on the issue of sexual misconduct. The Merit System Protection Board released a study on performance management, Building Blocks for Effective Performance Managementthat focused on the relationship between the agency’s “Agency Performance Management Environment” and employee performance and the ability to deal with poor performers. The MSPB report made the news because of a singe sentence that said having a small number of employees removed for poor performance could be a good sign. That statement was not the point of the report.

The three reports addressed the government’s ability to deal with problem employees, but from different perspectives. The OPM FEVS report simply reported the data. In one of many questions, it showed that employees generally do not believe their agencies do enough to deal with problem employees. (For more, click here.)

Do you agree with the author’s 3 ideas? Which do you think would be most helpful at the agencies you have worked for?



What’s Next for Federal Unions?

It is safe to say that unions have become a more partisan issue. Democrats generally like them, Republicans generally do not. It is likely we will see some changes that affect both the representational aspects of labor relations and the institutional issues that affect the unions themselves.

 The institutional issues relate to how unions get the resources they need to effectively represent employees. The two biggest factors are official time and dues withholding. In recent years there have been proposals that would eliminate the ability of employees to sign a dues withholding form to have dues taken from their pay. The alternative would be to use allotments or to have people pay the unions directly. There are a lot of reasons why proponents think it is a good idea, but the bottom line is it would make it harder for unions to get money.

The second institutional issue is also a representational issue – official time. Official time is the time union stewards and other officials use for representational issues. It is time on the clock and the taxpayers foot the bill. OPM reports the cost at more than $150 million per year. Because official time is typically under-reported, the actual cost is likely higher than that. (For more, click here.)

Do you agree with the approach recommended by the author would “work for the agencies, work for the employees, and work for the taxpayers”? Why or why not?

Fixing Federal Labor Relations: Office Time May Not be the Biggest Problem

The Incoming Trump administration says it will address the widespread abuses in official time by Federal labor unions. House and Senate Republicans have long said that Uncle Sam should not be completely subsidizing employee unions as is the current case.

 Agency representatives would agree that limiting or eliminating official time for employee representatives would be a step in the right direction, but that at least four other issues in the current labor relations system are of equal or greater importance in making government work at all, much less more efficiently and effectively. (For more, click here.)
Do you agree with the author that the four issues listed in this article are a significant hindrance to making the government work more efficiently and effectively? What would you add to or subtract from the list?

Fixing Federal Labor Relations: A Statutory Markup for Change

For 43 years, I’ve represented Federal Agencies in unit determination, negotiability, unfair labor practice, arbitration, mediation, impasse cases and at the bargaining table for both term and I&I frequently as a chief negotiator. I still bargain and am involved in cases as an advisor.

 I like to think Albert Einstein was right when he said, “the only source of knowledge is experience”. Well, I’ve experienced way too much of the labor statute and the many problems it has created for Agencies attempting to deal with it. The statute says, “the provisions of this chapter should be interpreted in a manner consistent with the requirement of an effective and efficient Government.”
The last and other Federal Labor Relations Authorities (FLRA) in their expansionist philosophy have done everything but … (For more, click here.)
Which of the changes to 5 USC 7103-7134 suggested by the author do you believe would help support efficient and effective government? Why?

Should the Government Fire More People and How Should They Do It?

Does the government fire enough people? Does it deal effectively with poor performers? Is the disciplinary and adverse action process effective?

At the risk of offending a few folks, I have to say the answer to all three questions is probably no. The government does not fire a large percentage of its employees in a typical year. The data is available in OPM’s excellent Fedscope tool. In Fiscal 2016, the number fired was 10,519. At the end of fiscal 2016 the government had 2,097,038 employees, so roughly 1 in 200  or 0.5% of employees were fired. If we look only at permanent employees, 9,579 of 1,951,334 employees were fired (1 in 204 or 0.49%). The VA fired 2,575 employees (1 in 145 or 0.69 percent) in FY2016.

Direct comparisons to the private sector are not easy, but if we compare the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) “layoff and discharge” rate we see that the private sector lays off or fires about 1.2 – 1.3 percent of employees. Government rates (adding in the small number of RIFs as well) are much lower than that of the private sector. However, the private sector numbers are lumping layoffs and discharges together, most likely because the line between those is often blurred. Companies often characterize removals as layoffs, while the government does not.

It is important to note that firing people is not the only measure of how agencies and companies deal with poor performance and misconduct. For more, click here.

Do you agree with Jeff Neal’s core principles for a governmentwide disciplinary/adverse action process? Why or why not? What would you add or subtract from the process?

Effective Management Requires Effective Discipline

In this article, the author states that “Corrective discipline should be the goal is most cases. [Discipline] is not intended to resolve severe or chronic cases of poor performance or misbehavior and to replace punitive actions when necessary. Nevertheless, when the [corrective discipline approach] is applied judiciously and appropriately, time and money can be saved and organizational goals can be enhanced.” For more on this important subject, click here.

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, ….

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