Acting SSA commissioner ‘concerned’ about employee burnout and lack of commitment
Acting Social Security Administration Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi responds to some of the worst results from the third round of federal pulse surveys.
Poor returns have continued for the SSA since the first round of flash surveys, including results around lack of engagement and poor work-life balance. The Office of Management and Budget, together with the Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration, have released the latest set of government-wide results April 28.
In response, Kijakazi wrote a E-mailobtained by Federal News Network, to all SSA employees saying they are “concerned” about the high rates of burnout that employees report feeling on the job, as well as that employees do not feel supported when it comes to equity and career advancement.
Of the 24 agencies in the survey, SSA ranked lowest on topics such as employee engagement and back-to-office communications.
The agency is evaluating how to handle the results, including considering increasing telecommuting opportunities, SSA press secretary Mark Hinkle told Federal News Network.
Hinkle partly attributed the poor scores to the increased workload, which stems from the Social Security Administration’s largest employee shortfall in more than 25 years.
“This will increase our customers’ wait times for service, increase processing times and result in increased backlog workloads. Our employees are feeling the brunt of these challenges,” Hinkle told Federal News Network.
In addition to low staffing issues, many current SSA employees are actively seeking other employment, Angela Digeronimo, regional vice president of Council 220 of the American Federation of Government Employees, told Federal News Network. Following the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 42.2% of SSA Pulse survey respondents strongly agreed they would take a job elsewhere if it offered more flexibility in the workplace or remote options.
Digeronimo said many employees were considering leaving in part because the workload was unreasonable.
“The other reason employees seek to leave the agency is work-life balance. The agency refuses to embrace technology in a way that would make processing work more efficient while providing better customer service experience to the American public,” said Digironimo.
Further adding to the problem, AFGE said that updating new SSA employees is a lengthy process. Ralph de Juliis, chairman of AFGE Council 220, which represents about 27,000 SSA field office and teleservice center employees, told Federal News Network that due to the technical nature of the job, approximately two years for new SSA employees to become fully competent.
“It hurts morale in the office,” de Juliis said. “It also makes it extremely difficult to retain new hires, as workload expectations simply aren’t achievable in the first 12-18 months for even the most exceptional new hires.”
The drop in scores from the third round of the survey is not exclusive to SSA employees. Other agencies typically low-rated in the third round include HUD and the Department of Homeland Security.
Additionally, in the Office of Personnel Management’s 2021 Federal Employee Perspective Survey, data showed a decrease in federal workforce engagement and satisfaction at the Federal Workforce. government scale.
“An important argument that we always make with these employee perspective surveys is to look at the data, read it, understand it, and really react to what you see within your own workforce,” said the OPM director Kiran Ahuja in an interview with Federal News. Network.
Ahuja said return-to-office plans could contribute to the decline in positive results in the 2021 FEVS.
“When you step back from what has been a maximum telework posture, and there are these changes, there are a lot of unknowns, I think it’s natural to see how that reflects in the survey. “, said Ahuja.
The third round of flash surveys asked 11 questions about employee engagement, agency responses to the pandemic, and equity and inclusion. The President’s Board of Management launched the surveys and the OMB, OPM and GSA worked together to distribute them.
The OMB, OPM and GSA distributed the survey before the agency opened its doors to the public last month, but many employees still expressed dissatisfaction with the communications and actions of SSA leaders in return-to-office plans.
Asked about their thoughts on reintegration plans, 31.9% of SSA respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with agency leaders protecting the health, safety and welfare of employees. Additionally, 26.7% of SSA employees disagreed or strongly disagreed with senior managers clearly communicating return-to-work timelines.
“Employees do not believe that the return to school was planned in their interests, let alone in their best interests. This comes through loud and clear in the negative pulse results,” de Juliis said.
SSA employees also came out on top for levels of burnout among the agencies surveyed. The percentage of SSA respondents who said they felt exhausted in the morning at the thought of another day’s work increased with each round of the survey.
Among many concerns, Kijakazi said she was encouraged to see a slight improvement in the opinion that workloads are reasonable. Although SSA’s workload score has improved this round, compared to other agencies, it is still one of the lowest scores.
SSA ranked fifth among agency response rates in the third cycle of the survey at 35%. The government-wide rate was 17%. This suggests employees are invested in improving the agency, Kijakazi said.
To improve the SSA, including adding more staff to ease the workload on employees, Hinkle said a bigger budget is needed.
“Chronic underfunding hurts our success and the experience of our employees. For example, the final Congressional budget this year was $850 million less than the President’s budget, forcing us to delay planned hiring, which would relieve workers,” Hinkle said.
SSA leaders are working with the Biden administration to try to increase funding for the agency and “to clarify the very real effects of the budget we received, which results in difficult choices. I hope Congress will join me in supporting you as we work to improve the service,” Kijakazi said.
Although AFGE acknowledges that the SSA has a tight budget, de Juliis said the agency’s funding is not the root cause of the problem.
“Micro-management, lack of hope, outdated systems and uncomfortable work environments are the driving factors behind our low retention rate. The only way to address these issues is to see systemic cultural change. a problem that money alone simply cannot solve,” said de Juliis.
Kijakazi said she would be in touch with SSA employees in the coming weeks to provide more details on the steps management is taking to respond to the results of the impulse investigation.