Federal happiness still on the rise, survey says

Shutterstock image: female workforce manager. 

Most federal agencies improved their employee happiness scores for the third consecutive year, but the need for more effective leadership continues to hold back greater improvement.

The 2017 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government ranking, jointly produced by Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte, report a government-wide employee engagement score of 61.5 out of 100, a 2.1-point rise over last year and the highest overall score since 2011's 65.0 rating.

The data for the survey mostly comes from the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. OPM initially withheld data on 186 small agencies and subcomponents it had provided in 2016, but reversed the decision.

"OPM's decision to now provide more complete governmentwide data will make it easier for agencies to compare themselves to their federal counterparts, and help Congress and the Trump administration engage in comprehensive oversight of federal workforce management," said Partnership President and CEO Max Stier.

Nearly three-quarters of agencies improved their overall employee engagement scores, but the public sector scores still considerably trail the private sector average of 77.8 -- a score that just eight federal agencies topped.

"A highly motivated and engaged workforce is critical to a well-functioning government and the success of our country," Stier said. "Federal leaders should understand that the government competes with the private sector for the best talent, and the government should endeavor to meet or exceed employee engagement levels seen in the best private sector companies."

Of the 18 agencies that have more than 15,000 employees, only NASA bested the average private sector score with an 80.9 rating -- a 2.3 bump over last year. The Departments of Health and Human Services and Commerce finished second and third, respectively, with scores hovering around 70.

For the first time since the rankings began in 2003, the State Department did not finish in the top five large agencies. State experienced a 2.8-point drop, driven mostly by a 9.2-point drop in how employees view their senior leaders.

The Federal Energy Regulation Commission (82.9), Government Accountability Office (82.5) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (81.9) scored the highest across all measured government agencies.

Despite again finishing last among large agencies, the Department of Homeland Security improved the most -- up 6.2 points to a 52.0. The most-improved subcomponent in the 2017 rankings was Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which jumped 11.5 points to 56.7.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which finished second-to-last among large agencies with a 56.1, was one of just five to see its score drop -- the others being the intelligence community, Social Security Administration, and the Departments of Justice and State.Among the categories measuring employee engagement -- including effective leadership, teamwork, work-life balance, strategic management, support for diversity and pay -- the biggest improvement in the 2017 scores was in support for diversity.

The report notes that employees report the government "has a highly mission-focused workforce, but needs stronger leadership."

"This is troubling," the report states, "because the Best Places to Work data show that effective leadership remains the key driver of employee engagement as it has been every year since the rankings were launched in 2003."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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