The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings offer the most comprehensive assessment of how federal employees view their jobs and workplace. They provide insight into issues that range from leadership and pay to teamwork and work/life balance. The rankings alert leaders to signs of trouble and provide a roadmap to help improve organizational performance and better manage our government's most important asset—its employees.
The 2012 results tell a troubling story about a workforce whose satisfaction and commitment levels have dropped to the lowest point since 2003, when the rankings first launched. The government-wide index score fell 5 percent, from 64 out of 100 in 2011 to 60.8 this year. The 3.2-point drop is the largest change in the history of the rankings. Meanwhile, employee satisfaction in the private sector remained constant, with a score of 70.0 according to Hay Group.
Government-wide, the new rankings show a decline in not just in the overall employee satisfaction, but also in all of the other 10 workplace categories that the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte examined. The most significant drop between 2011 and 2012 was in satisfaction with pay, which fell 4.1 points between 2011 and 2012 (and another 3.9 points between 2010 and 2011). The next highest drop in satisfaction was with rewards and advancement, which fell 2.5 points.
The declining job satisfaction levels across the federal government come during turbulent times, with employees buffeted by many uncertainties and feeling the effects of a two-and-a-half year pay freeze that runs until the early part of 2013, hiring slowdowns, buyouts, increased retirements and budget constraints.
Among individual federal organizations, 66 percent saw their overall ratings decrease in 2012 compared with 69 percent in 2011. More specifically, 74 percent of large agencies, 82 percent of mid-size agencies, 78 percent of small agencies and 62 percent of subcomponents experienced a decrease.
For the seventh time in a row, effective leadership was the primary driver of employee satisfaction and commitment in the federal workplace. Leadership continues to be one of the lowest-rated workplace categories with a score of 52.8 out of 100.
New to the Best Places to Work rankings this year is the addition of a mid-sized agency category to supplement the large and small agency groupings. The purpose is to provide comparisons of agencies that are more similar in size. Agencies with more than 15,000 employees are classified as “large,” those with 1,000 to 14,999 employees are classified as “mid-size,” and any agency of 100 to 999 employees is considered “small.”
The number one 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 Department of State. In the mid-sized rankings, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation took top honors with a score of 83.3, while the top-ranked small agency was the Surface Transportation Board with a score of 84.3. Using 2003 as the benchmark, the State Department climbed the furthest. The State Department’s score is up 9.2 points since 2003, and it has been ranked as one of the top 10 large agencies since 2005.
In keeping with the government-wide trend, employee satisfaction decreased in 66 percent of agencies. A few agencies, however, defied the government-wide convention, including the Department of Transportation, a large agency which raised its score a full 4.1 points. The Office of Management and Budget, a small agency, was the most improved of any organization, with a 13.3 point increase since the 2011 survey. National Endowment for the Humanities, another small agency, registered notable improvement with an increase of 5.8 points. The most improved mid-sized agency was the National Credit Union Administration, which increased its score by 2.9 points. NCUA’s score has been steadily increasing for the past few years and is up 10.9 points since 2009. These agencies prove it is possible to improve employee engagement in even the most challenging climates.
While it was a challenging year for most agencies, some lost far more footing than others. Of the large agencies, employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs expressed the biggest decrease in satisfaction, with a drop of 7.1 points, from 63.8 in 2011 to 56.7 this year. It was followed by the Department of Justice with a 4.5-point decline. The biggest drop for a mid-sized agency was the National Labor Relations Board, whose score fell 7.5 points. The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) had the largest declines among small agencies last year and again in 2012. FMC dropped by 21.9 points and USTR dropped by 15 points.
Many issues influence how employees view their workplace and rate their satisfaction, but the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte, with support from Hay Group, run an analysis to determine which factors are the most important. Effective leadership has emerged as the key driver every year since the rankings launched in 2003, followed by a match between agency mission and employee skills. The third most important factor, satisfaction with pay, emerged for the first time in 2010, replacing work/life balance as a key element for overall satisfaction and commitment.