Commission’s EEO Briefing

NTEU Monday Minute for the Week of June 22, 2015: NTEU’s Comments at Today’s Commission EEO Briefing

This Monday Minute will provide you with the comments that NTEU provided to the Commission at this morning’s Human Capital and Equal Employment Opportunity Briefing.  NTEU was pleased to see that this very important agency meeting was well attended.

Good Morning, Chairman Burns, Commissioners, Executives, Managers, and fellow bargaining unit employees.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak with you on behalf of the National Treasury Employees Union in this forum. NTEU, as you know, is the exclusive representative of our bargaining unit employees. I am joined here today by Robert Heard, our Chief Steward and Chapter Secretary, and Chapter officials and stewards Ellen Martin, John Goshen, and Peter Hearn.

This morning we have heard a lot of information about how to accomplish the agency’s mission while “rightsizing” it, that is, using fewer resources – FTE and dollars. We have heard about how important it is to know what our goals are so, as an agency, we know how to more effectively target those goals. We have heard about how important it is for our employees to understand their roles and responsibilities and have appropriate training in order to be empowered to effectively engage in the work they are tasked to accomplish.

The Project Aim 2020 report states several times that the agency’s most valuable asset is its people. The presentations this morning support that assertion. However, many employees would tell you (and will tell you even more clearly in the FEVs results for 2015), that they are feeling less, rather than more, valued. Part of this has to do with civility in the workplace.

The New York Times Sunday included an important opinion piece entitled “No Time to Be Nice at Work” by Christine Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown’s School of Business. The article describes the devastating impact that a “mean boss” can have on employees. The author makes clear that not only experiencing this behavior but also witnessing this behavior can “elevate levels of hormones throughout the day, potentially leading to a host of health problems…” and over the long term, result in long term health effects, as well as significant losses of productivity.

Several of the issues that I have worked on over the last year, support the conclusions the author draws in this article. Employees that I have worked with specifically, pointed to behaviors of their branch chiefs as real impediments to their sense of engagement with their work and with the organization as a whole. Two employees that I am aware of were hospitalized — both because of the level of stress they were experiencing on a regular basis as they tried to complete their work. Several employees expressed how anxious they felt every day just coming in to their office. A couple of these employees also felt they had health issues related to that anxiety. One employee who was targeted as a poor performer went on a rotation and within months was apprised as an excellent performer. His whole demeanor changed.

Whether actual health problems, poor performance, or horrible morale issues result, the “mean boss” in these cases was clearly the biggest driver. Three of those employees (all in different branches) who recently started or will soon start working for new branch chiefs commented that they are once again happy to come into work because they feel they have a new opportunity to contribute more effectively and will be treated fairly rather than worrying about every aspect of their working environment.   As one employee exclaimed with a huge smile on her face: “Life is, once again, Good!”

NTEU’s comments this morning are not new. We have brought this message to this forum several times. But even if NTEU said nothing, our employees have expressed the impact that they feel incivility has had on their working environment in the declining FEVs scores which show a downward trend over the last four years, with the jury still out on this year’s results.

In 2014, for example: Only 42% of those responding to the FEVS believe that differences in performances are recognized in a meaningful way. Only 30% of those responding are satisfied with their opportunity to get a better job in their organization. Only 25% believe that creativity and innovation are rewarded. A dismally low 24% believe that promotions in their work unit are based on merit. An even lower percentage of those responding, 23%, believe that in their organization, senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workplace.

In an era where the agency will be driven hard by external factors, including Congress, to reduce FTE and our budget, it is more important than ever to recognize the enormous cost of incivility. A December 2014 OMB, OPM, White House Memorandum entitled “Strengthening Employee Engagement and Organizational Performance” provides key strategies for strengthening an organizational culture of engagement. One of the strategies the memo points to is the inclusion as specific parts of annual performance plans and appraisals, for SES members and senior managers, cascading down to mid-level managers and supervisors, a focus on how they are fostering employee engagement and creating inclusive work environments. Looking at the FEVS trends and last year’s scores specifically, how is employee engagement and creating an inclusive work environment actually being measured in these performance plans?

While the agency cannot make rude and thoughtless managers – or employees – behave better or even more professionally, how is the agency making the consequences of inappropriate behaviors significant?

I’ve almost completely lost track, as many of us have, as to what is happening with Behavior Matters. But, what we do know and have always known is that IT DOES – BEHAVIOR DOES MATTER!  The New York Times’ article references Charles Hortan Cooley’s 1902 notion of the “looking glass self” – that we use others’ expressions, behaviors, and reactions to define ourselves. “How we believe others see us shapes who we are. We ride a wave of pride or get swallowed in a sea of embarrassment based on brief interactions that signal respect or disrespect.”

Project Aim 2020 stresses that the agency’s most valuable asset is its people. NTEU could not agree more. Yet, in conversations with “the looking glass self” employees who have dealt with “mean bosses,” I am often disheartened. The New York Times’ article concludes with an observation and a question: “In every interaction, you have a choice: Do you want to lift people up or hold them down?”

As the agency’s most valuable asset, we must strive to lift our employees up. They deserve nothing less.  Thank you.

NTEU would like to hear from you.  Please provide your comments or questions to or drop by the NTEU office at O 1G22.

Someone Said:  “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” –Chief Seattle (1780-1866); Leader Of The Suquamish And Duwamish Native American Tribes

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