MORALE CRISIS

This Spring, AFGE Local 1812 released a survey designed to give employees an opportunity to state for themselves why they believed the morale at this Agency is so abysmal. Most of the responses focused on the Voice of America and Radio/TV Marti. The Union released two versions, one for Union members only, and one for anyone who wished to participate including managers and contractors. The results for each were similar.

LowMoraleEmoticons

The goal of this survey process is to allow employees to use their own words (not pre-packaged choices) to express morale related concerns, to distill those thoughts into items badly in need of attention and change, then communicate the summary results to employees and upper management. The summary:

1. Honesty

Over and over again, respondents said the Agency is not honest about poor decisions and failures; then the Agency doesn’t want to honestly deal with the negative consequences. Not only that, the Agency appears to prefer that those that speak up and seek change for the future remain quiet; such persons may even be marginalized and treated poorly.

Upper management should admit they don’t know how to create fundamental positive change (including problems in management) that would raise morale. The Agency needs help from people who can make a positive difference, not just in word and intention, but in real follow through. Over-promising and under-delivering ends up making things worse by creating expectations that go unmet.

2. Insight

When the Agency wishes to hire new management or a consultant from outside of the Agency, that person’s track record outside of the Agency should be closely examined. If a person is hired from within the Agency, do not assume that skills at certain non-management tasks mean a person will be a good manager. The Agency willfully ignores poor new-manager performance and fails to remove the new manager during the first year probationary term. (How many new managers have been removed during their probationary period?)

Management does not examine itself well enough, does not evaluate management performance with genuine management performance measurements, and does not remove the worst from the Agency unless the manager has a problem with a non-management issue such as time and attendance. Instead, a very poor manager, after damaging one work group, is moved to another work group. Managers who are good at ‘selling themselves’ are kept on, their poor performance ignored by their superiors.

Pay close enough attention to identify and stop political agenda-serving news products.

3. Balance

The workforce of those who actually make the product is continually pressed to do more while their numbers grow less; meanwhile, the number of new managers grows.

4. Trust

Upper management does not listen well enough to either rank-and-file nor middle and lower management about existing and developing problems. Upper management only wants to hear positives. Many requests for positive change are met with answers that appear to come from this kind of management thinking: “What’s the easiest way to say ‘no’?”

Some employees work in areas where they see managers trying to use Agency resources improperly. Some managers develop a bad attitude and act in ways that harm the career of an employee who does not simply accede to the manager’s wishes.

5. Equivalency

Employees see obvious and ongoing favoritism, cronyism, even nepotism, that is allowed and continues unchecked.

6. Stagnancy

There are managers who do not improve and make no effort to see their employees genuinely grow; managers who aspire only to a mistake-free status quo or to doing more, mistake-free, with less.

7. Respect

Upper management doesn’t acknowledge, to the point of devoting time and resources to fundamental change, communication from lower level management or employees. Decisions are made at an upper level without consulting those who accomplish the work and everyone down the line is expected to successfully implement these decisions even if they can be seen to be poor choices.

Management gives insufficient opportunity for existing employees to show skill, talent, innovation, and creativity beyond the cell into which an employee is slotted, and when there is a situation where an employee does show something above and beyond, the employee may or may not be meaningfully recognized for it, but that employee is almost certainly going to be asked to simply return to former duties while others, who may have the ability to look good on paper while not having the real-world talent needed, are hired for areas of greater responsibility and remuneration.

Managers who are separated from the actual processes of preparation and production only consult with each other before making impacting decisions. People who work and have expertise where the rubber meets the road should be consulted and the information they provide should be given weight that is not easily ignored.

When a manager or supervisor makes choices that disrespect employees, the manager or supervisor should be called out for such things; Labor Employee Relations and other management support teams should not be expected to aid any manager in the poor treatment of an employee.

8. Integrity and Accountability

The Agency has several practices that are not wholly in accordance with law and regulation, and rather than do it’s best to form policy and practice from the core of what law and regulation intend, the Agency concerns itself with trying to legitimize it’s dubious choices. The Agency does not wholly accede to proper external authorities when it forms policy and practice, and the Agency looks for ways not to follow through when an external authority finds fault with something the Agency has done or is doing. This often results in greater waste than compliance from the beginning.

The Legislative and Executive branch give a certain trust to management when management is granted certain authorities. When the Agency fails to have the integrity to be self-accountable, and external mechanisms of accountability are weak, the Agency often will do what it can get away with rather than meeting it’s challenges while maintaining a genuine and public intent to adhere to law, regulation, and decisions of external authorities.

9. Mission Failure

On a day-to-day practical basis, the majority of management makes choices and takes action not looking to the mission itself, but to the goals, policy, and budget that have been placed before them. To the extent that the goals, policy, and budget have not been formed with the best fulfillment of the mission hand-in-hand with best practices regarding employees, the Agency fails to fulfill the mission with true excellence and leaves a low morale workforce in the wake of its efforts.

A fundamental examination of mission fulfillment and employee treatment is badly needed.

The Agency’s Initial Management Reaction

When the Union shared preliminary survey indications with upper management, we heard these two basic criticisms: 1) the number of employees responding to the survey was questioned, implying that the results were not truly reflective of the opinions of many employees; 2) there weren’t any action items which management could quickly address.

The Union Responded

The number of employee responses was indeed not high. This does not make the responses less representative or invalid. The Union heard from several employees who did not participate in this survey and who said that they had already participated in other surveys that were supposed to make a difference and needed change was not seen – what was the point of taking another? How many felt the same way and never spoke up?

Almost every response to the survey dealt with fundamental attitudes and functions, not simple solutions. Extra-curricular activities attended by a small minority of employees and chats with leadership may help camaraderie and communication, but when needed fundamental change does not come, these lesser things are seen as shallow or hollow.

What next?

The Union would still like to hear from you regarding the survey summary with specific information pertaining to the points made above. Are the issues the Union survey raised representative of how you see things? Are these points valid? What specifically needs to happen in your work group that would bring positive change?

Four ways we may hear from you: comment here; call or stop by the Union office; send an email to the Union (contact page) ; look for and participate in a Union follow-up survey coming soon.

A big thank you to all who participated! And to all who are reading this, please help the Union do more by not letting this effort end here – respond to the upcoming survey or reply to this article in any way you are able.

Thank you.

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COMPENSATORY TIME USE

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AFGE Local 1812 has become aware of a major push by the Agency to ensure employees use their compensatory time before it expires. Many employees have been surprised to learn, when they request annual leave, that they are being required to use their earned compensatory time before their annual leave.

This, apparently, is an initiative coming from the Budget Office (as part of a cost saving initiative, so we hear). You should know that this initiative impacts employees differently depending on whether you are “Exempt” or “Non-exempt” from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). (If you are not sure whether you are exempt or non-exempt check box #10 on your latest pay statement. It will indicate etiher “E” for Exempt or “N” for Non-exempt.)

First, there are some situations in which compensatory time cannot be earned and the Agency must pay overtime. If you are Exempt from the FLSA (and over the GS-10 rate), the Agency can choose to compensate your irregular overtime work with compensatory time. For Exempt employees who work regular overtime, you must be paid Title 5 overtime pay.

If you are Non-exempt from the FLSA and you work irregular overtime, it is your choice on whether you will receive overtime pay or compensatory time. If you work regular overtime, there is no choice, you MUST be paid overtime pay (time and a half).

The Agency policy on the use of compensatory time states that the supervisor who approves the overtime work, which will result in compensatory time off for the employee, should schedule the time off at the same time the overtime work is approved and the compensatory time is earned. This doesn’t always happen and if it doesn’t happen the supervisor, in consultation with the employee, is supposed to schedule the time off as soon as possible before the compensatory time expires (26 pay periods after it was earned).

If compensatory time expires before it is used, The Agency will forfeit an FLSA Exempt employee’s expired compensatory time. An exception to this would be if the employee requested the compensatory time off and that request was turned down.

So it is actually beneficial for Exempt employees to make sure their compensatory time is scheduled and used. Otherwise, they risk losing it.

For Non-exempt employees, if the compensatory time expires, the compensatory time is converted to FLSA overtime pay (time and one half for every hour of overtime worked).

Supervisors are being given a spread sheet from the Budget Office alerting them if any employee they supervise has any compensatory time that is about to expire and instructing the supervisor to schedule the compensatory time off. Having the Agency pay overtime for compensatory time would be a black mark for the supervisor.

There are two cases where the supervisor is banned from substituting an employee’s compensatory time for annual leave: 1) within the last three months of the year, and 2) for any period of the employee’s vacation period (this is the period of extended leave employees are supposed to be given the opportunity to select at the beginning of every year).

The idea behind the ban on substituting compensatory time for annual leave during the last three months of the year is to prevent the Agency from forcing employees into a use or lose situation for their annual leave.

This ban is not the best situation for Exempt employees because expired compensatory time is forfeited but there is the possibility that use or lose annual leave may be restored. Exempt employees should make sure they use up any compensatory time that may be expiring at the end of the year instead of their annual leave and then seek a restoration of any annual leave that was lost.

For Non-exempt employees, any compensatory time that expires is converted to overtime pay, so if the supervisor does not schedule it, the ban on substituting annual leave for the two reasons stated above is beneficial for the Non-exempt employee. This is because expiring compensatory time is not forfeited for Non-exempt employees; it is converted to time and one half pay. The Non-exempt employee can use up his or her annual leave to avoid a use or lose situation and then cashing out any expiring compensatory time.

If you have any questions about this please contact your AFGE Local 1812 representative.