Employee Engagement as Administrative Reform: Testing the Efficacy of the OPM's Employee Engagement Initiative

Published date01 May 2019
Date01 May 2019
Employee Engagement as Administrative Reform: Testing the Eff‌icacy of the OPM’s Employee Engagement Initiative 355
Abstract: Researchers have long recognized administrative reform as a constant feature of American public
administration. The employee engagement initiative of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has
become one of the most prominent administrative reforms underway in the federal government. Like many reforms,
the veracity of claims about this reform have gone untested. This article addresses this gap by testing the relationship
between the OPM’s employee engagement initiative and agency performance. After establishing the psychometric
validity of the OPM’s Employment Engagement Index, the authors use a five-year panel data set of federal agencies
and two-way fixed-effects regression to test the efficacy of this prominent reform. The analysis shows that efforts to
encourage employee engagement generally have the expected relationship with performance, but the relationship varies
according to the components that make up the index and the organizational level at which these efforts are expended.
Evidence for Practice
• Administrative reforms are being adopted throughout the world with the aim of increasing employee
engagement and, in turn, improving organizational performance.
• Supportive managerial practices aimed at getting employees to become more engaged with their work—such
as listening to employees, treating them with respect, communicating expectations, and promoting growth
and development—can lead to higher performance.
• In the U.S. federal government, efforts to engage employees have culminated in the Office of Personnel
Management’s Employee Engagement Index (EEI). While the EEI is not a measure of psychological
engagement, scores on this index do relate positively to measures of organizational performance.
Taha Hameduddin
Indiana University Bloomington
Sergio Fernandez
University of Pretoria
University of Johannesburg
Indiana University Bloomington
Employee Engagement as Administrative Reform:
Testing the Efficacy of the OPM’s Employee
Engagement Initiative
Sergio Fernandez is associate
professor in the School of Public and
Environmental Affairs at Indiana University,
extraordinary professor in the School of
Public Management and Administration
at the University of Pretoria, and visiting
professor in the Centre for Public
Management and Governance at the
University of Johannesburg. His research
focuses on organizational behavior in the
public sector, representative bureaucracy,
and government outsourcing.
E-mail: sefernan@indiana.edu
Taha Hameduddin is a PhD candidate
in the School of Public and Environmental
Affairs at Indiana University. His research
interests include administrative reform,
employee attitudes and behavior, and
their relationship with organizational
performance and the external environment
of public organizations.
E-mail: hamt@iu.edu
Research Article
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 3, pp. 355–369. © 2019 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.13033.
Kettl (2005) argues that if there is a constant in
today’s globalizing world, it is the rapid
pace of government reform. Researchers
have long recognized reform and reorganization as
a central theme of American public administration.
Stillman (1990) argues that the stateless origins
of public administration in the United States and
elements of its constitutional design, including
its relative silence on administrative matters, have
necessitated an inductive and experimental approach
to public administration (see also Waldo 1948). Over
the course of the nation’s history, administrative
practices and structures have risen and fallen in
response to the needs of the state. In this spirit,
the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
recently began championing a government-wide
initiative to engender organizational conditions
that foster employee engagement. By encouraging
organizational leaders to create a positive
organizational climate that engages employees, the
OPM believes that federal agencies can improve
performance, increase job satisfaction, and reduce
voluntary turnover (OPM 2015a).
It is important to consider the OPM’s employee
engagement initiative and explore its efficacy for
several reasons. First, this initiative has moved to the
front and center of the OPM’s efforts to enhance the
capacity and performance of the federal bureaucracy
and is now among the most prominent administrative
reforms underway in the federal government.
Since 2010, the OPM has included the Employee
Engagement Index (EEI) in its highly publicized
Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) and
emphasizes the importance of improving agency scores
on this index. In addition, the OPM and other large
agencies offer training programs and guidance on how
to use the EEI to create an engaged federal workforce.1
Agency scores on the index have made for popular
press and have also become key topics of consideration
at both U.S. House and Senate hearings,2 pointing to
the significance of this initiative. Indeed, considering
the relative lack of performance data on federal
agencies since the discontinuation of the Program
Assessment Rating Tool (PART), the OPM’s EEI has
emerged as an important proxy for the effectiveness of
federal agencies.

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