Agencies take a beating in 2018 Best Places to Work report

employee data (kentoh/ 

Amid leadership ineffectiveness and turnover plus a strained relationship with labor unions, the federal government generally looks like a less enjoyable place to work than it did a year ago.

That's according to the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government ranking, jointly produced by Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group and derived from the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data.

The overall 2018 governmentwide score clocked in at 62.2, a 0.6-point drop from the score the Partnership gave last year. By comparison, the 2018 private sector engagement score is 77.1. Further, this year, employee happiness at the majority of agencies declined, reversing a three-year trend in which most federal agencies improved over the previous year.

"This year's rankings tell the tale of two governments," said Partnership for Public Service President Max Stier. "One part of our government has agencies with committed leaders who are fostering high and improving levels of employee engagement. The other part of our government is handicapped by a lack of leadership that has led to static or declining employee engagement."

From 2016 to 2017, 79 percent of mid-size and large agencies improved. From 2017 to 2018, just 36 percent improved. The rankings note a sharp drop in satisfaction around pay, as well as in the match between employee skills and agency missions. But area with the most precipitous drop was "effective leadership." Just 46.4 percent of the measured agencies improved in 2018; 75.8 percent improved in 2017.

"This leadership deficit should be of great concern to the White House, Congress and the American public," Stier said. "It also should serve as a wake-up call for federal leaders across the government whose agencies have low or falling employee engagement scores."

Because the score is largely based on agency leadership rather than employees' specific work, Jeff Neal, senior vice president of the management consulting firm ICF, suggested "what we may finally be seeing is the impact of administration attitudes about certain agencies."

"Those that have more controversial leaders or have seen a dramatic shift in approach to the mission are among those with the biggest drops in the index score," he noted.

The large agencies whose scores did improve tended to be those already at the top of the rankings. For the seventh consecutive year, NASA claimed the top spot among large agencies. The Department of Health and Human Services, which improved its score for the fourth straight year, and Department of Commerce claimed the second and third spots.

The Department of Veterans Affairs did not participate in the FEVS this year, and it was not included among the rankings.

The same trend generally held for mid-size agencies, too. The Federal Trade Commission jumped from fourth last year to take the top spot. The Government Accountability Office, which was second among mid-size agencies last year, dropped 1.8 points in 2018.

The Departments of State and Agriculture endured the biggest drops of large agencies, slipping 3.3 and 6.9 points, respectively. Agriculture — as well as the Department of Education, which finished last among mid-size agencies — have enacted policies cracking down on telework, which has been significantly restricted since last year. Education's score dropped more than 12 points since last year.

For mid-size agencies, in addition to Education, the National Labor Relations Board took a huge tumble, as its score also dropped more than 12 points. The biggest drop, however, belonged to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which fell 25.2 points. The only agency to suffer a larger decline in happiness was a small agency, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which dropped 31 points. The Merit Systems Protection Board, another agency dealing with workforce rights, also took a sizable hit in its score.

The Environmental Protection Agency also fell for the second straight year, this time dropping six points. Employees gave its senior leaders a score of 38.1 out of 100.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.


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