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