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Performance Management Performance Management Cycle

Quality Step Increases: Timing Matters

Managers sometimes give Quality Step Increases and wonder why the employee they were trying to reward gets upset. The issue is usually timing. This article reviews timing issues with Quality Step Increases and offers a checklist of factors to consider when deciding on the timing of a Quality Step Increase.

Quality Step Increase

A Quality Step Increase is a faster than normal within-grade increase used to reward employees at all General Schedule grade levels who display high quality performance. To be eligible for a Quality Step Increase, an employee must:

  • be below step 10 of their grade level;
  • have received the highest rating available under their performance management program;
  • have demonstrated sustained performance of high quality; and
  • not have received a Quality Step Increase within the preceding 52 consecutive calendar weeks.

Timing Matters

Quality Step Increases are given in addition to regular within-grade increases and won't affect the timing of an employee's next regular within-grade increase, unless the Quality Step Increase places the employee in step 4 or step 7 of their grade. In these cases, waiting periods are extended an additional 52 weeks (waiting periods are 52 weeks for steps 1-3, 104 weeks for steps 4-6, and 156 weeks for steps 7-9). The time an employee has already waited counts towards the next increase, but they must wait the full period that the new step requires.

Example: Jane has been an excellent employee with sustained high quality performance. She is at GS-7, step 6, and will be eligible for her within-grade increase to step 7 in 45 days.

Scenario 1- Jane's supervisor has decided to give her a Quality Step Increase. The award is proposed, approved, and made effective within 3 weeks.

Jane is happy with her award until she realizes that the human resources (HR) office has not processed her regular step increase. When she questions the HR office, she finds out she cannot receive her within-grade increase because she is now at step 7 and must wait an additional 52 weeks to be eligible for step 8.

Even though she doesn't feel the immediate benefit of the award, Jane has still received a faster than normal increase. She will receive her step 8 two years earlier than she would have without the Quality Step Increase.

Scenario 2-Jane's supervisor would like to recommend her for a Quality Step Increase. First, the supervisor checks with the HR office to make sure Jane meets all the requirements. While checking with the HR office, her supervisor learns that Jane will soon be eligible for her within-grade increase to step 7, and also learns about the extra waiting time required if the Quality Step Increase is granted before the regular within-grade increase. The supervisor decides to hold the recommendation for the Quality Step Increase until after the HR office processes the within-grade increase.

Jane receives an immediate benefit because her regular within-grade increase and her subsequent Quality Step Increase are processed within one pay period of each other.

Factors to consider

In recommending a Quality Step Increase, the supervisor and HR specialist should review several factors in regard to timing:

  • How long will the employee be able to enjoy the benefits of a Quality Step Increase?
  • Will the employee be promoted in the near future?
  • Will the Quality Step Increase make a difference in setting the promotion pay?
  • Has the employee received a Quality Step Increase within the last 52 weeks?
  • When is the employee eligible for their next within-grade increase?
  • Will the increase take the employee to a new waiting period, i.e., step 4 or step 7?
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