Federal employee satisfaction drops sharply in new survey

image of worried man

The Partnership for Public Service's 2012 Best Places to Work report finds that federal employess are more likely to be frustrated and dissatisfied with their jobs than the year before. (Stock photo)

Pay freezes, budget constraints and overall political turbulence made it a difficult year for government workers. But new research reflects just how challenging 2012 was, by revealing the sharpest decline in federal employee satisfaction in nearly 10 years.

The newly released “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” report from the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte Consulting LLP shows that federal employees’ satisfaction and commitment level dropped to its lowest point since 2003. Just 32.5 percent of individual agencies saw their scores increase over 2011, while 1.4 percent held steady and 66.1 percent declined.

The report also revealed that the governmentwide index score fell 5 percent, from 64 out of 100 in 2011 to 60.8 this year. As a comparison, the report noted, employee satisfaction in private industry has held steady at a score of 70 for several years.

Nearly 700,000 federal employees from more than 360 agencies and subcomponents responded to the survey on which the the report is based. The Best Places to Work index score draws from responses to three questions from the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey: whether employees would recommend their organization, how fulfilled they are with their job, and overall satisfaction with their agency.

Although different variables affect what employees think of their organization, the report noted that certain factors have remained key drivers since the rankings launched in 2003: effective leadership, followed by a tie between agency mission and employee skills. The next-most important factor, satisfaction with pay, has now become more important than work-life balance as a key element for overall satisfaction and commitment.

The No. 1 large agency in 2012 was the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, with a score of 72.8 (out of 100), followed by the intelligence community and the State Department. In the mid-size rankings, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation topped the list with 83.3 points, while the highest-ranked small agency was the Surface Transportation Board with a score of 84.3

The Office of Management and Budget showed the biggest improvement of all agencies, with a 13.3 point increase. The Office of the Chief Financial Officer at the Education Department also saw a substantial upward leap, climbing almost 10 points from 2011.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Federal Maritime Commission had the biggest drop of nearly 22 points. Among larger agencies, employees at the Veterans Affairs Department expressed the biggest decrease in satisfaction, with a drop of 7.1 points, from 63.8 in 2011 to 56.7. However, the overall lowest-ranking agency was the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, with a score of just 32.7.

Among the 10 workplace categories ranked, satisfaction with pay showed the most significant drop. Rewards and advancement, which fell 2.5 points, experienced the second-largest decrease.

Despite the declining numbers, the report findings should come as a shock to no one, said Max Stier, Partnership for Public Service president and CEO.

“The 2012 ‘Best Places to Work’ results tell a troubling, but not surprising story,” he said in a Dec. 13 statement. “Our nation’s public servants have sent a clear signal that all is not well. The two-year pay freeze, budget cuts and ad-hoc hiring freezes are taking their toll – and this is a red flag.”

The top 10 ‘Best Places to Work’ large (15,000+ employees) federal agencies are:

  1. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  2. Intelligence community
  3. State Department
  4. Commerce Department
  5. Environmental Protection Agency
  6. Social Security Administration
  7. Treasury Department
  8. Justice Department
  9. Transportation Department
  10. Navy

The top five mid-size (1,000 to 14,999 employees) agencies:

  1. Federal Deposit Insurance Commission
  2. Government Accountability Office
  3. Nuclear Regulatory Commission / Smithsonian Institution (tie)
  5. Federal Trade Commission

The top five small (100 to 999 employees) agencies:

  1. Surface Transportation Board
  2. Congressional Budget Office
  3. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
  4. Peace Corps
  5. National Endowment for the Humanities

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Fri, Dec 21, 2012

As a VA employee, we are driven to support fellow Veterans that have given so much. It is common to see personal photos and sentimental objects that remind us of our purpose. It is a given that everyone likes pay, benefits, etc. For me and many I work with, removing useless management, policy and system roadblocks that serve to limit performance would give a tremendous morale boost. For example, what good is a system that is secured to the point of being unusable. How many hours are wasted and risks introduced by workarounds because the organization won't purchase the needed software or a few key people feel they don't need to implement it. How about a root cause analysis, instead of the weekly feel-good survey. I will continue to serve our Veterans despite the obstacles and that is what makes me happy.

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 Emile Bons

Good article; points out why it's handy to at least measure employee engagement.

Tue, Dec 18, 2012 Chuck DC Metro Area

Was Navy on the list in 2011? .... Adjusting your view of contentment may have an affect on expectations of pay.

Fri, Dec 14, 2012

NASA ranks so high because everyone is so passionate about the mission and the work. If something isn't done about the cuts in salary and benefits all of the talent will just move on to industry leaving the nations space program in a very compromising situation.

Fri, Dec 14, 2012

I don't know why the feds are complaining about pay. According to President Obama, two GS-14s in the DC area who are married to each other are among the top 2% of earners in the country. They are the "rich" who should be taxed more!

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