News: Climate survey takes temperature of workforce
Story by Michael DiCicco
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va., - On Tuesday, Col. David Maxwell, commander of Marine Corps Base Quantico, gave his first presentation of the results of a civilian workplace climate survey that was conducted in the early fall.
The report produced mixed results, showing that respondents perceived distinct strengths and weaknesses in the base’s civilian work environment, although none of the five general topics of the survey scored below a 50 percent favorability rate.
Maxwell told the civilian employees gathered in Little Hall that he had called for the survey because, while the approximately 700 uniformed Marines under the base command are regularly polled with regard to job satisfaction and work environment, there was no such survey on record for the base’s 1,700 or so civilian employees.
“Arguably, two-thirds of you are the ones who keep the installation running on a day-to-day basis,” Maxwell said.
The survey, carried out online between Sept. 10 and Oct. 5, received a response rate of 45 percent, which Maxwell called “by pretty much any standard a very good response rate.”
The results found that base civilians overwhelmingly feel positive about their overall job satisfaction and the alignment of their work with the base mission, topics that received 77 percent and 80 percent favorable responses, respectively. Meanwhile, barely more than half of respondents answered positively when asked about performance recognition in the workplace or about opportunities for professional development and growth.
“Overall, I think we’re on the right track,” Maxwell said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to raise the bar.”
The civilians polled gave their leadership a 59 percent favorable rating, with 24 percent responding unfavorably and the rest giving a neutral response.
Maxwell said communication between the various levels of leadership seemed to be the issue here, as almost three-fourths of respondents respect and feel positively about their immediate superiors, while fewer than half are satisfied with overall communication with leadership.
“That communication aspect was the driving factor in responses that pulled overall satisfaction down in this category,” he said.
He added that occasional concerns about hostile work environments, discrimination, and health and safety issues “set off red flags for me.”
When it came to recognition of workplace performance, Maxwell said, “This is one of the areas that were kind of consistently low across all the questions that were asked.”
While respondents generally felt performance evaluations were fair and appropriate, he said, only 39 percent felt differences in performance were adequately recognized, and a number of comments expressed the perception that General Schedule employees and managers receive more rewards and recognition than wage-grade or non-supervisory workers. Maxwell called on supervisors to think about how these findings might be reflected in their departments.
Responses regarding the alignment of employees’ work with the mission of their department and the base showed that this area is “obviously a strength for the base, which is reaffirming to me,” Maxwell said.
Only 8 percent responded unfavorably, while 90 percent said their work is important to the Marines and their families, and 82 percent said they understand how their work relates to the base’s goals. A number of respondents, however, said they feel their skills are not being tapped to their potential.
Introducing the subject of professional development and growth, Maxwell said, “this is one of the problem slides for me.”
At 51 percent positive and 24 percent negative, this was the lowest-scored area in the survey.
Maxwell said a number of responses expressed the perception that supervisors are reluctant to seek growth opportunities for their workers for fear they might advance, leaving job vacancies to fill.
Career advancement, he said, “is something we ought to celebrate, we ought to promote and we ought to encourage.”
The other challenge with respect to professional development was a limitation on resources available for training, he said. Noting that the base has a well-respected Civilian Leadership Development program, Maxwell said it’s worth looking for ways to expand the program’s reach.
Whatever complaints they had, respondents still gave high ratings for their overall job satisfaction, with only 10 percent responding unfavorably.
Maxwell said most negative comments related back to concerns about recognition, advancement and communication with leadership. Meanwhile, 86 percent said they like their work, and 73 percent expressed a sense of personal accomplishment.
“In general, we are pretty happy with coming to work on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
Maxwell said he had added a few questions to the survey to clarify his own understanding of certain issues. Among the findings was that employees do not have a good understanding of policy regarding alternate work schedules and telework, a subject where Maxwell said he, too, planned to seek clarification.
Employees also showed interested in the new Quantico Civilian Health and Wellness Program, which Maxwell said he would continue to publicize.
A recurring theme of concerns was a shortage of resources, which Maxwell said was understandable.
“If you feel it, I feel it, too,” he said. “And so, I understand that. We’re going to continue to do the best we can with what we’ve got.”
Maintenance and condition of facilities was another area of concern, and he said that despite the current, tight budget situation, he and the rest of base leadership need to lay out a long-term strategy for investing in the base.
Responses to the survey were also broken down by demographics, which revealed almost no difference between the responses of males and females, while there was a significant discrepancy between supervisors and non-supervisors. Supervisors responded positively at rates 10 to 17 percent higher than non-supervisors in the various areas of questioning.
Maxwell said leadership would need to focus on closing that gap.
He said he was especially concerned by the appearance of terms like “bullying,” “favoritism,” “hostility,” “disrespect” and “sexism” in some of the negative responses.
“Here’s the bottom line, there’s no place for that … at Marine Corps Base Quantico or anyplace inside the Marine Corps,” he said.
He suggested that concerns about discrimination be voiced to the bases’ Equal Employment Opportunity office, and safety concerns should be reported to the base Safety Division.
Moving ahead, he said he planned to start focus groups at the beginning of the year to address the problem areas revealed by the survey, and he expressed a commitment to work to improve top-down communication on the base.
For starters, he said, “I am willing and more than prepared to continue town hall meetings on a regular basis.”
With regard to maintenance and repair of facilities, he said he had already tasked the Installation and Environment Division with building an interim strategy.
“Hopefully, we can improve the facilities piece that you all work in every day,” Maxwell said.