Frequently Asked Questions: Working at NIH

What are NIH plans for implementing competencies?

Suggested competency models have been created for common occupations across NIH. These competency models are available as an example of what knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviors are needed for each position. Employees and supervisors can use the competencies dictionary to identify the competencies that are needed for success in a specific position. Managers can use competencies to help identify skills needed in prospective job applicants.

What is the relationship between performance and competencies?

The relationship between competencies and performance is indirect. As employees increase their proficiency levels, their performance outputs would generally be expected to improve. Organizations whose employees have high proficiency levels are organizations that would be expected to have superior organizational performance. However, this is not always the case. An individual may possess the required knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors but may be performing at a lower level than expected due to various factors, e.g., personal problems, lack of focus, job dissatisfaction, negative reaction to organizational change, lack of organizational resources, etc.

Employees are rated on performance in relation to how well they have accomplished the tasks set out in their performance plans. Performance plans establish specific tasks and expectations for various positions and employee grade levels and this is the basis for performance evaluation.

What if there are other competencies that are relevant for my job but are not included in the models?

The NIH occupational models describe the global competencies required for all employees in a specific occupation. The occupational models do not describe every competency relevant to a job. If there are other competencies important to your specific job/role, you should discuss them with your supervisor and determine the best approach for incorporating them into your overall career development plan.

How do NIH and HHS competencies relate to each other?

HHS competency models were reviewed during the development process of NIH competency models. The two models are compatible. Although there are differences in some of the names of the competencies and key behaviors, the NIH competencies incorporate the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) described in the HHS competencies.

Why are competencies useful to employees?

Competencies help employees to:

  • understand the competencies expected in their job, the key behaviors they should demonstrate, and the steps needed to increase their proficiency levels
  • discuss with their supervisors the employee’s strengths, areas for growth, and suggested training, and developmental activities
  • focus on specific training and development opportunities that will help them grow and strive for excellence
  • understand the competencies they would be expected to have to move into a new job, particularly for employees who are interested in becoming supervisors and managers or in changing careers
Why are competencies useful to supervisors?

Competencies help supervisors to better:

  • screen prospective employees during the hiring process, which results in better hiring decisions
  • discuss with employees their strengths, areas for growth, training, and developmental activities
  • distribute work more efficiently by using the knowledge of employees’ proficiency levels.
  • acquire training and development opportunities systematically and efficiently, e.g., develop training partnerships between organizations, bringing tailored training to employees, etc.
  • determine what type of skill sets are needed in the future, which helps support succession planning.
Why are competencies important to ICs?

ICs can systematically identify their competency gaps in occupational areas. In turn, this can lead to more focused hiring decisions and succession planning, better strategic assignment (alignment) of tasks and functions; and cost-effective training that is tailored for employees who have common needs.

Why is NIH developing competencies?

NIH is investing in competencies to improve: 1. recruitment and hiring; 2. career development of NIH employees; and 3. strategic organizational planning. One goal is to develop vacancy announcements that more clearly state the competencies that NIH expects employees to possess. Competency development is also essential to developing behavioral-based interview guides, which in turn will allow hiring officials to better select talent from a pool of job candidates. Overall, the use of competencies will result in better recruitment of talent that will improve the quality of the NIH workforce. Developing competency based tools will also support the career development of NIH employees. Assessment tools highlight the areas in which employees are most proficient and areas in which they can focus developmental activities. The competency training maps help employees choose training that will help them develop. Finally, managers and supervisors who understand the competency gaps within their organizations will be able to strategically address these gaps.

How have competencies been used by other organizations?

For many years, competencies have been used effectively in both the private and public sectors. They play a key role in organizational development and improvement by articulating the capabilities required for individual and organizational performance. Competencies serve as a solid foundation for human capital areas such as recruitment and hiring of talent, job assessment, employee development and training, performance management, career planning, and succession planning. Depending on the organization’s choice, it can choose to apply competencies to all of these human capital areas or some of them. Competencies may be incorporated into position descriptions, interview guides, hiring criteria and methods, assessment processes, individual development plans (IDPs), performance management processes, and employee development opportunities, e.g. training.

What if there is not enough funding for training? What are other development activities?

Training is only one option out of several development activities for an employee. Other activities that can help employees develop their level of proficiency in a competency include, but are not limited to:

  • reading/studying
  • being coached/mentored
  • shadowing
  • participating in a committee/group
  • developing SOPs
  • completing special project(s)
  • leading special project(s)
  • conducting/presenting at seminars
  • leading training sessions
  • leading or chairing a committee/group
  • volunteering as a mediator
  • coaching/mentoring
How were the Proficiency Maps developed?

The maps for the occupation-specific competency models were developed by focus groups that consisted of top performers in their occupational areas. The maps were then reviewed and confirmed by an NIH HR Classification Specialist. The maps for the administrative leadership and management models were developed by a focus group of the NIH leaders and reviewed and confirmed by the HR Branch Chiefs and an HR Classification Specialist.

What is the next step after I assess my level on the NIH proficiency scale?

After you assess your level on the NIH proficiency scale, your supervisor should also assess your level. Then, you and your supervisor should discuss the assessments and establish an action plan or IDP that documents the steps you should take to continue to develop your proficiency level.

How do I assess my proficiency level of any particular competency?

First read the definition of the competency and the key behaviors that describe how employees may demonstrate that competency. Then review the proficiency scale and familiarize yourself with the different levels. You will want to consider they ways that you have recently demonstrated that competency and select the most applicable proficiency level. It is suggested to also record your thoughts in the comments section while completing your assessment.

What is a competency model?

A competency model is a collection of competencies - often organized into categories or clusters - considered pertinent to an organization and a particular function within an organization (e.g. occupational series, position, etc). Individual competencies are usually defined and supported by key behaviors. Models may be general and apply to all employees, while other models may apply to specific occupations or positions. At NIH the Core competency model relates to all NIH employees, in administrative positions. The Leadership and Management competency model is relevant for all administrative positions with supervisory and/or managerial responsibilities. Occupation specific competency models are for all employees within a specific occupational series as suggested competencies. Not every competency in the occupation specific model may be relevant to an individual’s position.

At NIH all competencies include a definition and key behaviors along with a proficiency scale.

If Federal offices are closed on my regular AWS day off, am I entitled to an additional “in lieu of day off?”

If Federal offices are closed on your regular AWS day off, you are not entitled to an additional “in lieu of day off.” Additionally, employees cannot be granted excused absence on a non-workday.

If Federal offices are closed for an extended period of time, may I be recalled to work if I am designated as a Tier III non-emergency employee?

During extended Federal Government closures, NIH may deem that changing circumstances require Tier III employees to report to their worksites. NIH has established procedures for notifying and recalling Tier III employees. Tier III employees are expected to remain in contact with their supervisor at all times during dismissal or closure situations to maintain continuity readiness.

If I am a Tier III non-emergency employee who is not on a written telework agreement, will I be granted excused absence when my worksite is closed and I am prevented from working due to the emergency?

As a Tier III non-emergency employee, you will be granted excused absence when your worksite is closed and you are prevented from working due to the emergency. However, excused absence will not be granted to employees on (1) leave without pay, (2) official travel, or (3) a flexible or compressed work schedule day off.

If OPM announces an early or immediate departure, may I leave my worksite prior to the announced departure time?

Yes. Tier II and III non-emergency employees who depart prior to the early, immediate, or final departure time may request to use unscheduled leave. Such employees will be charged leave for the remainder of their workday and will not be granted excused absence.

Will I receive additional pay or paid time off if I am required to report to my worksite or telework during my regular tour of duty on a day when Federal offices are closed (or when other employees are authorized a delayed arrival or an early departure)?

Employees who are required to report to their worksite or telework during their regular tour of duty on a day when NIH offices are closed are not entitled to receive overtime pay, credit hours, or compensatory time off for performing work during their regularly scheduled non-overtime hours.

May I use LWOP (Leave Without Pay) on a day when unscheduled leave is announced by OPM?

Three of OPM’s operating status announcements state that an employee may “use” LWOP on a day when unscheduled leave is announced. You must request LWOP and it must be approved by your supervisor. OPM’s procedures do not create an automatic entitlement to use LWOP when the option for unscheduled leave is made available.

If OPM announces an early departure and I am teleworking, should I stop teleworking at that time?

If OPM announces an early departure and you are teleworking, you should continue teleworking for the entire day. If you are impacted by the emergency, then you may request appropriate leave, earned compensatory time off, credit hours (if permitted), or may ask to reschedule your flexible work schedule day off when additional time is needed. Your supervisor may exercise his or her authority to grant excused absence to teleworkers on a case-by-case basis (e.g., for electricity/infrastructure/connectivity issues, childcare or eldercare issues).

Am I required to telework during a delayed arrival announcement from OPM?

NIH cannot require you to telework when OPM announces a delayed arrival announcement.

Telework should always be voluntary during these particular announcements and employees will be given the opportunity to perform unscheduled telework, take leave, use a combination of the two, or report to the official worksite. If you are approved to use unscheduled telework versus report to the worksite, you should work the entire day.

What are the details of the new OPM “Delayed Arrival” announcement?

OPM will announce a designated time by which employees should report to their duty location. All Tier II and III non-emergency employees who commute to their worksite on that day are expected to arrive no later than the designated time and will be granted excused absence (administrative leave) up until that designated time. If an employee arrives after the designated time, he or she will be charged leave. If unscheduled telework is announced as an option, employees who choose this option should telework for their entire tour of duty. If unscheduled leave is announced as an option, employees who choose this option will be charged leave for their entire tour of duty. Tier I emergency employees are expected to report on time for their usual tour of duty, unless directed otherwise.

If I am Tier II employee on a written telework agreement and I cannot telework during Federal offices closure, will I be granted an excused absence?

In rare situations, your supervisor may determine that circumstances justify granting excused absence if you are on a written telework agreement. This could occur, for instance, if power outages or network connection problems prevent telework. If you are required to work and fail to report for work without adequate reason, your supervisor may place you in an absence without leave (AWOL) status, and you may potentially be disciplined for AWOL. Supervisors should contact the OHR Employee & Labor Relations Office for guidance.

Note: Excused absences is granted on a case by case basis. Case by case considerations include: an employee’s inability to telework due to lack of power or connectivity; equipment failure or unavailability; or lack of available public transportation.

If I am a Tier I emergency employee and cannot report for work during an emergency situation, may I be granted excused absence?

Your supervisor may grant a reasonable amount of excused absence to a Tier I employee who is unable to report to the worksite or faces a personal hardship. For example, factors such as distance, availability of public transportation, or health/medical limitations may be considered. Tier I employees who cannot report to their designated worksite are expected to continuously update their supervisor on their status and their ability to commute to the worksite during the emergency.

Note: Excused absences is granted on a case by case basis. Case by case considerations include: an employee’s inability to telework due to lack of power or connectivity; equipment failure or unavailability; or lack of available public transportation.