Is Telework Good for Federal Employees? New Reports Seem to Say "Yes"

Recent reports indicate that the telework environments many federal employees have come to inhabit since workplaces shut down in response to COVID-19 could increase work happiness and productivity. Additionally, employee ratings for managers increased, which came as a surprise to many who predicted dissatisfaction with leadership due to COVID-19-induced stress and higher workloads.

Today, we're exploring how federal employees across the country are benefiting from telework, even during one of the most disruptive years for federal employees in recent memory.

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Telework Appears to Increase Employee Engagement & Productivity

In the fall of 2020, the Office of Personnel Management issued the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to government employees. Their findings, which indicated that employee engagement and productivity increased as more federal employees took advantage of telework opportunities, surprised many researchers.

The study found that 59% of federal employees reported teleworking daily at the height of the pandemic. That figure was a dramatic increase from previous years, during which only 3% of federal employees reported teleworking daily.

Of course, not all employees teleworked voluntarily. Many had no choice as offices shut down and ordered employees to telework in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The pandemic also increased workloads for many employees. As federal employees in several departments contracted the virus, other workers found themselves doing more work to compensate for colleagues who were out sick. Combined with a general increase in workload as various departments attempted to implement new operations to transition into telework models and keep the country operating smoothly during the pandemic, many employees found themselves facing exceptional workloads.

According to surveys, 18% of employees reported a "great" increase in work demands, while a further 30% reported "some" increase. In contrast, only 2% reported a "great" decrease in workload, and only 7% said their work demand decreased "some." Additionally, 9% of federal employees called the pandemic "extremely disruptive," 14% called it "very disruptive," and 30% called it "somewhat disruptive."

Despite the significant impact COVID-19 clearly had on employee work demands and environments, many federal employees still reported being broadly satisfied. In fact, 79% of federal employees said they were either "satisfied or very satisfied," while only 10% reported dissatisfaction with the government's teleworking efforts in 2020. That marks a 19% increase in employee satisfaction and a 9% decrease in dissatisfaction compared to 2019.

Employees weren't just more satisfied with their workplaces - many were more engaged and productive than ever before. Employees who reported working at least three days per week remotely scored 76 out of 100 on their engagement index, compared to an engagement score of 62.5 for employees who were ineligible for telework.

Another survey conducted by the National Treasury Employees Union found that 92% of survey respondents reported having a "successful" telework experience and nearly 66% reported an increase in productivity, compared to only 7% reporting a productivity decrease.

Overall, these figures bode well not only for the general satisfaction of federal employees in 2020 but also for opportunities to extend teleworking opportunities moving past the COVID-19 pandemic. Many departments may find that allowing employees to work from home has myriad benefits, from decreased payments for office space to increased employee happiness and productivity.

Last but not least, ratings for federal employee managers also increased in 2020 compared to 2019. Between 74 and 82% of federal employees responded positively to questions about employee leadership, an increase of 3-4 points on average compared to previous years. Employees also reported satisfaction with how leaders communicated with employees and generated motivation during the pandemic.

These reports may be most surprising of all, as many researchers expected increased dissatisfaction with leadership due to increased employee workload. However, these results do mirror other studies indicating that many employees are happier and more productive working from home.

These survey results shine a positive light on federal workplaces and workplace environments during 2020. Increases in employee productivity and happiness in the wake of a year as stressful and fraught with difficulties as 2020 could lay the groundwork for an even better 2021.

If you're a federal employee and believe your employer may be violating your rights or employment law, we can help. Contact us online or via phone at (202) 350-3881 to schedule a consultation with a skilled federal employment law firm who can help you find the best path forward in your case.