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Effective Leadership Communication, Quality of Communication Experience and Public Employee Experience

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bill Brantley
August 4, 2023

It has been one month since I left the U.S. Federal government for the second time. I’ve enjoyed building my consultancy and pursuing independent research projects. Before I left the government on June 30, 2023, I participated in the 2023 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). Filling out the survey reignited my interest in using the FEVS to study the links between leadership communication and the public employee experience.

What is the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey?

The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) is an annual, anonymous and confidential survey conducted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management since 2002. It assesses the perceptions of federal employees regarding their work experiences, organization, leadership and more. Measuring aspects like job satisfaction, engagement, leadership effectiveness and workplace inclusivity provides valuable insights to federal agencies. The FEVS helps formulate policies to improve organizational health, employee morale and job satisfaction, contributing to better public service delivery.

I’ve been analyzing FEVS data beginning with my work as a policy analyst in 2013 for the Strategic Workforce Planning group at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Over the years, I’ve built an extensive database to help me research questions on federal agency leadership, organizational health and employee engagement. My research has focused on three areas: building an employee training index; studying the quality of leadership communication; and the links between training, leadership communication and employee engagement.

The Federal Employee Training Index

In a 2015 PA Times article, I wrote, “[l]earning and development is the key intrinsic motivator to engagement.” The argument was based on John Wiley and Sons’ (book publishers) program that improved employee engagement by 90 percent after emphasizing training and development. I built a draft training index based on nine questions from the 2011 to 2014 FEVS results. I compared the training index scores to the employee engagement index created by OPM and found a positive correlation. I plan to revisit this research in the next few months. If you would like to replicate my study, the questions I selected from the 2011 to 2014 FEVS were: 1, 2, 3, 8, 11, 18, 26, 27, and 68. You can find more information on how OPM calculates the Employee Engagement Index from the 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results.

Leadership Communication

The Partnership for Public Service (PPS) created an Effective Leadership Communication index based on three questions from the 2013 FEVS:

Q56 – Managers communicate the goals and priorities of the organization.

Q58 – Managers promote communication among different work units (for example, about projects, goals, needed resources).

Q64 – How satisfied are you with the information you receive from management on what’s going on in your organization?

PPS compared the effective leadership communication scores to the PPS’ Best Places to Work in the Federal Government index and found a significant positive correlation. I did a quick correlation study between the Effective Leadership Communication index and OPM’s Employee Engagement index and determined a significant positive correlation. The effective communication index is a valuable tool, and I wonder why PPS didn’t continue further research on effective communication.

Quality of Communication Experience

I revisited the FEVS research in 2015 after reading a study on the quality of communication experience (QCE) as applied to intercultural negotiations (Liu and Chua, 2010, “Quality of communication experience: Definition, measurement, and implications for intercultural negotiations,” Journal of Applied Psychology, 95: 3, 469-487). Liu and Chua propose QCE has three dimensions: clarity, responsiveness and comfort. I selected questions from the 2004 to 2017 FEVS corresponding to the three dimensions. Due to changes in the FEVS over time, I found 9 to 11 questions that indicated comfort, 8 to 10 questions for clarity, and 6 to 8 questions for responsiveness. I plan to apply canonical correlation analysis to the FEVS QCE index to determine the questions that impact QCE the most.

From Employee Engagement to Employee Experience

While at OPM, I researched employee engagement and quickly became convinced that it only told part of the story of why FEVS morale scores dropped from year to year. Employee engagement focuses mainly on involvement and enthusiasm; it is just one aspect of the broader experience. Employee experience encompasses the entire journey, from recruitment to exit, including the physical environment, tools and culture, which significantly impact overall job satisfaction and performance. Prioritizing employee experience addresses the root causes of disengagement and fosters a more holistic, satisfying and productive work environment.

I am restarting the research into the training index while replicating the PPS work on effective communication leadership. I will then apply the three dimensions of QCE to the FEVS data to determine a link between QCE and effective leadership communication. In the meantime, I will explore if the FEVS data can speak to the public employee experience. We have two decades of FEVS data that can provide valuable insights into how the Federal government workforce has changed and will change in the 21st century.

Author: Dr. Bill Brantley is the President and Chief Learning Officer for BAS2A – an instructional design consultancy for state and local governments. He also teaches at the University of Louisville and the University of Maryland. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of his employers. You can reach him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/billbrantley/.

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