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Women's Group Pushes Overhaul Of Pay-For-Performance Programs

Alyssa Rosenberg | Government Executive

January 11, 2010

Federally Employed Women plans to lobby Congress and the Obama administration to make changes in pay-for-performance programs after a majority of FEW members said in a survey they did not support their agencies’ alternative pay systems.

“We firmly believe that just pointing out problems does not help,” said Sue Webster, national president of the employee affinity group. “We are also offering solutions on how to fix these problems, including more training, safeguards, data collection and required action plans.”

A survey of 224 FEW members who work under pay-for-performance systems found that, 65 percent, or 146 respondents, did not back the alternative compensation systems. Most cited implementation issues, rather than the principle of linking pay to quality of work, FEW said. The organization’s members highlighted issues such as a lack of training and instructions for managers, pay pool panels with no connections to the workers whose salaries they determine, and an emphasis on writing rather than presentation skills in evaluations.

FEW members did praise pay-for-performance systems for requiring annual meetings between employees and supervisors, giving workers a better sense of how their jobs fit into larger organizational efforts.

The survey results have prompted the group to seek a number of reforms for existing and future performance-based pay programs. First, FEW will argue for the establishment of outside, independent review boards to adjudicate employee appeals of negative evaluations. The organization suggested that the Office of Personnel Management create a pool of experts in performance evaluation to staff such panels.

And FEW wants to see the development of a governmentwide data collection program that would track raises, bonuses, and salary increases by race and gender.

“If the government moves to a new personnel system, then it is absolutely essential that as much data as possible be collected on employment trends and advancements,” the group argued in a new position paper (also see below). “It is essential that it be closely monitored whether compensation is becoming biased against women or minorities as any new pay system is implemented.”

FEW also plans to suggest procedural changes for performance evaluations, including staggering them throughout the year to avoid overburdening supervisors by requiring them to conduct reviews all at once; involving employees’ peers in the evaluation process to provide more perspective on their performance; and allowing employees to submit oral statements on CD in lieu of written forms, to let them to document their work in the medium with which they are most comfortable.

Cecelia Davis, FEW’s vice president for congressional relations, said she hopes the organization can have a productive role in implementing the proposed changes. Both OPM Director John Berry and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., have said the federal pay and employee evaluations system need reform, but it is not clear whether they will pursue governmentwide pay for performance.

“It is our assumption, because it is a stated goal of Director Berry’s, that some type of government reform is coming down the pike,” said Janet Kopenhaver, Washington representative for FEW. “Our goal was to offer some suggested solutions in anticipation of this reform…we do think that some type of pay-for-performance system will result.”

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