Local Government Employees Reveal What Makes for Job Success*

Over three years, a city manager developed a plan to improve what, to her, were lackluster employee ratings of organizational quality – work environment, wages and benefits, communication and the like. By the end of the period, employees were reporting better work conditions. But here was the big surprise. In a citizen survey, residents gave improved ratings of their community and local government.

The link between employee perspectives and customer attitudes has been demonstrated in many studies. In the private sector, there even is evidence that better organizational commitment to service (measured in employee surveys) links not only to better client relations but it is a bridge to better company financials.

The analogue to company financials for local governments is community livability, the bottom line. If you improve employee motivation, engagement and satisfaction, you make it more likely that you’ll be able to build a stronger more livable community just as tuning all the parts of a stock car engine is the necessary precursor to winning the Daytona 500.

Much of the research on government employee attitudes has come from regular federal government soundings of its employees.  Uniquely, our organization is creating a large database of local government employee opinion by aggregating survey results from thousands of employees in cities and counties across America. Results for local government employees help managers understand what already is well oiled in the organizational machine, what still needs tuning and which parts of the machine matter most to success.

For each employee survey conducted in jurisdictions across the U.S., scores of answers are aggregated into these twelve dimensions of service. Each of these dimensions comprises several survey questions from The National Employee Survey.

Employee performance evaluation Communication and decision-making Employee development
Morale and modeling Wages and benefits

Employee-supervisor relationship

Quality of internal support services Timeliness of internal support services Department performance
Employee contribution and fit Physical work environment Job satisfaction plus quality and timeliness of internal services

Where jurisdictions have conducted the survey, employees view these dimensions of work quite differently. But when we aggregate results from thousands of participating employees in a variety of jurisdictions in the U.S., we can see essential characteristics of the local government work environment.  In the accompanying graph, we show two important results from these surveys: the ratings of each dimension of work and the two dimensions that are most closely linked to employee satisfaction.

First, the aspect of local government work that is least favored by employees is employee performance evaluations followed closely by communication and decision-making, and opportunities for development. At the top of the ratings are job satisfaction, the physical work environment and employee contribution and fit to the job. Broadly, these top-rated dimensions are the aspects of local government employment that are working best for the staff charged with providing top quality service to city or county residents.

Miller graph
1 Indices are based on more than 7,000 employees answering all questions

But as important for local managers as these ratings of job circumstances are, the dimensions of work that have the strongest influence on overall job satisfaction reveal what factors work to make for better overall job satisfaction. The graph shows that these aspects of the work environment (derived from regression modeling) are ‘morale and modeling’ plus ‘contribution and fit.’ As the key drivers of job satisfaction, these two dimensions of the work environment are most closely associated with employees’ ratings of their job satisfaction (even though the dimension ‘morale and modeling’, on average, is rated lower). When staff sense strong organizational moral and have trust in leadership and when their jobs fit their talents and permit them to make a meaningful contribution, employees are most likely to express the greatest job satisfaction. (Wages and benefits, which some suspect would be most closely linked to job satisfaction, are not as strongly related as are these key drivers.) When organizational morale and personal fit are weak, job satisfaction suffers.

These general insights, although unique in each jurisdiction, offer a place to start as managers seek to improve the engine that drives excellent service delivery and resident opinion about the quality of community life. So as part of your organizational tune up, ask your employees to reflect on their jobs, commitment, colleagues and leadership and identify the factors that are most important to a more satisfying job experience.


Submitted by Thomas I Miller.

*This article originally appeared in The Civil Review by National Research Center. Reprinted with permission.

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