Bad Morale More Than An Inconvenience

Soon, once again, like the arrival of Spring, employees of the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) will be asked to respond to a survey to assess the state of morale at the Agency. This year we should see the announcement next week – a little later than normal – the second full week in May.

Just like in the past a failing grade is almost certainly going to be the result. Since this time last year, the management of the USAGM has made no significant changes that would improve overall morale. There just seems to be no urgency to address the severe morale crisis.

There will be those who will shrug off the USAGM’s failing grade by claiming that the government shutdown hurt morale. But the government shutdown hurt numerous agencies and yet some of those same agencies will show major improvement in their morale while the USAGM will not.

It appears that the upper management of USAGM just simply does not value its employees – at least those rank and file employees that work for the VOA and TV/Radio Marti. They seem to be determined to demonstrate this over and over again. This problem is deeply seated and has been perpetuated over many years. Apparently, to be accepted into the upper management club, you must share if not a total disdain at most an indifference for the rank and file working for the USAGM.

So is high morale of any real importance? It sure seems to be. Studies have shown that in a significant number of instances high morale equals high productivity. This is not a surprise for those in the military. A demoralized army is almost certainly destined to be defeated. In sports, it is not unusual to hear the reason for a team’s failure to succeed and the subsequent sacking of its manager as being due to lack of morale.

Some believe that it makes no difference if they fill in the survey and this is understandable. Year after year the USAGM (formerly the BBG) received failing grades and no substantial changes happened. AFGE Local 1812 believes that there are those that are looking at the results and that it is worthwhile for employees to report their true feelings about the organization. For example in a recent Inspector General’s report (Targeted Inspection of the Governance of the United States Agency for Global Media ISP-IB-19-22 April 2019) it was noted that “USAGM consistently scored below average for the global satisfaction index among medium-size agencies participating in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.” The report indicated that the areas that actually showed improvement included training (especially pointing out supervisory training), employee development, work-life programs, and improvement in the number of supervisors who held discussions with employees regarding performance. We believe that more work in the areas of employee development and work-life programs would help. For instance there appears to be a retrenchment in the area of telework. Telework should be expanded especially in the case where employees are in areas that are being renovated and are potentially dangerous to their health. There are numerous single parents working at the Agency. Why has the Agency refused over and over again to participate in child care facilities for its employees? And why do Agency officials continue to irresponsibly designate as many employees as possible as “emergency employees” and force them to risk their health and safety to come in to the worksite during emergencies? In addition the habit of meting out the most extreme penalties to employees who commit transgressions is unnecessary and ultimately a waste of government resources and cannot possibly help with overall morale. The purposeful under-staffing throughout the Agency (except at the upper ranks of management) lets employees know that management does not care about their health as the stress levels just keep rising. “Less is more” in reality means “less is more stress”.

We encourage all employees to fill out this year’s OPM Employee Viewpoint Survey. Will it help? With others outside the Agency taking notice, we believe that eventually it will.