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by Alex Palmer | January 17, 2013
Federal employees would be more motivated if government agencies enhanced their reward programs, says a new report from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The independent agency, which works within the executive branch of the U.S. government and oversees federal merit systems, came up with these findings based on responses from 42,000 employees.

The MSPB report found that while 71 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “I feel highly motivated in my work,” only 21 percent possessed a high Motivation Potential Level. This metric was based on five job characteristics: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback. 

In particular, the report, titled “The Motivating Potential of Job Characteristics and Rewards,” spotlighted non-monetary rewards as an area for improvement. Of the 11 non-monetary rewards asked about in the study, such as training opportunities and appreciation, respondents rated eight of them as more important than monetary awards and bonuses. 

“Federal agencies can make better use of rewards, both monetary and non-monetary,” wrote Susan Tsui Grundmann, chair of the MSPB. “Fortunately, most federal employees place great importance on non-monetary rewards, such as the opportunity to serve the public and the opportunity to perform challenging work.” 

Despite this engagement with non-monetary awards, the study shows that many federal workers did not see a clear connection between their work efforts and individual results and outcomes, including performance rewards. Only 23 percent of respondents had a high Motivation Force Score (representing the perceived connection between effort, performance, and rewards).

“Steps that agencies can take to strengthen this critical connection include improving performance management practices and providing rewards that federal employees truly value,” wrote Grundmann.

Drawing on these findings, the report put forth several recommendations for how federal agencies should design and execute their reward programs:

Offer a variety of rewards.
Clearly communicate to employees the types of rewards available and conditions for receiving them.
Avoid creating expectations for rewards that cannot be met.
Identify rewards that employees value and accommodate these preferences whenever possible.
Ensure fairness and transparency in rewards, including that “similarly situated employees are treated similarly.”

The report concludes that, “Employees’ perceptions of the connection between desired rewards and their effort and performance can influence their motivation. However, agencies need to give the right rewards the right way.”

The full report, including motivational levels by federal agency, is available on the MPSB's website.