NASA still a great place to be a boss

Shutterstock image (by Gajus): businessman giving a thumbs up.

(Image: Gajus / Shutterstock)

For the second year in a row, NASA tops the Partnership for Public Service's rankings of best agencies to work for if you are a member of the Senior Executive Service.

The outlook is less sunny at the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. They had the lowest rankings for SES member satisfaction, and have been in the bottom 25 percent for the past three years in the survey.

The Department of Labor saw the most improvement, jumping to second place with an increase of 11.8 points since 2012. The Department of the Interior improved as well, increasing 8.9 points in SES satisfaction, reversing a downward trend from 2012 to 2013.

The annual rankings, which use data from the Office of Personnel Management's Best Places to Work in Federal Government survey, measured satisfaction of 7,200 SES members across 18 large federal agencies for 2014. The rankings also took into account how the executives' views differ from those of other employees.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, career senior executives tend to be much happier at work than the rest of the federal workforce. Overall, SES members had an overall satisfaction score of 82 percent, 22.3 points higher than other federal workers.

The gap is even more pronounced for performance management. Executives are much more likely to believe promotions are awarded based on merit (79 percent of SES members compared to just 30 percent of the rest of the workforce). Also, 68 percent of executives think steps are taken to deal with poor performers who can't or won't improve. Only 26 percent of other federal employees agree. And when it comes to feeling like you are rewarded for a job well done, 75 percent of executives responded positively compared with 36 percent of other employees.

Overall, the key factors that affect satisfaction and commitment for SES members are the same as for other federal employees. The report found effective leadership is most important, alignment between skills and mission goals is second, and pay is third. Newer executives provide an exception. Among SES members who have been in government for less than 10 years, training and development replaces pay as significantly influencing work satisfaction, according to the report.

The Department of Labor, which rose in the rankings this year, incorporated a new training policy. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez launched the SES Training program, a nine-month initiative for 53 of the department's newest executives, in November 2013.

Lucy Cunningham, director of executive resources for the Department of Labor, helped run the program.

"It's true that they already have great skills or they wouldn't be where they are. But they can be even better and even more effective with the right training. Connections have been made through this program that otherwise would not have happened," Cunningham said in the report. "In fact, this has been one of the most surprising outcomes of the program. True friendships have been formed."

Commerce Department officials said satisfaction with training improved thanks to new efforts like the first Commerce SES Summit in June 2014, which brought together 300 senior executives from across the department. Another summit is planned for 2015.

The Government Accountability Office has been working toward getting managers to incorporate regular feedback into their everyday routine. The report cites Netflix as a private-sector example, referencing a 2014 Harvard Business Review article on Netflix's workplace culture. According to the article, Netflix did away with formal reviews. Instead, managers and employee were expected to frequently have "honest and clear conversations about the quality of work."

Some takeaways from the report to help close the gap between the perceptions of executives and the rest of the federal workforce include training managers to have frequent conversations with their staffs about daily work, and emphasizing team building.

About the Author

Bianca Spinosa is an Editorial Fellow at FCW.

Spinosa covers a variety of federal technology news for FCW including workforce development, women in tech, and the intersection of start-ups and agencies. Prior to joining FCW, she was a TV journalist for more than six years, reporting local news in Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Spinosa is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Writing at George Mason University, where she also teaches composition. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia.

Click here for previous articles by Spinosa, or connect with her on Twitter: @BSpinosa.


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