It's Not Easy Being a Federal Best Place to Work: Managers Can Use Data to Hone in on Improving Employee Satisfaction. Agency Leaders Also Should Celebrate Successes to Solicit Employee Support for Continued Efforts

Article excerpt

There is little doubt that high levels of employee satisfaction and commitment lead to a more effective and productive workforce. Yet it is no easy task for public managers to keep employees motivated and engaged these days, given the increased workloads and decreased resources, pay freezes, the possibilities of furloughs, and negative public attitudes toward government.


While federal employees continue to provide exemplary service to their country, it is troubling that overall employee satisfaction and commitment is decreasing. In the most recent Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, the government-wide score for employee satisfaction declined by 3.2 points, from 64 out of 100 in 2011 to 60.8 in 2012. This is the single largest drop since the Partnership for Public Service first published the rankings in 2003.

There were some success stories in 2012, including the Department of Transportation, which has been cited as the most improved large agency twice in the past five years. But more than 60 percent of federal agencies decreased in their overall Best Places to Work score last year.

It is imperative that federal leaders focus on strategies to reverse this trend to better meet the many challenges ahead for government agencies.

Produced by the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte, the Best Places to Work rankings provide a benchmark for measuring federal employee job satisfaction and commitment, and highlight workplace issues that need attention. The data establish a baseline to track an agency's progress over time, and to compare it with other government agencies and the private sector.

The 2012 rankings are based on data from the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey that was conducted from April through June, 2012 and additional survey data collected by the partnership from nine agencies plus the intelligence community. The rankings encompass responses from nearly 700,000 federal workers and include 362 federal agencies and subcomponents.

New in 2012, agencies are ranked from first to last in one of four groups instead of three. In addition to large and small agencies and subcomponents, a mid-size grouping has been included in the rankings. The agencies also are ranked by 10 workplace categories, including effective leadership, strategic management, employee skills and mission match, pay and teamwork. Data are available on demographic groups, including race, ethnicity, age, and gender.

Three questions from the OPM survey form the basis for the overall Best Places to Work index score that measures job satisfaction and commitment: Would I recommend my organization as a good place to work?; Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your job?; and Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization?

Understanding the Data

Despite the downward trend, the good news is that even in the face of adversity, federal leaders and managers can take a number of steps to address employee concerns and improve employee engagement. The first step is to examine the data to better understand what is affecting employee attitudes and to focus efforts on key areas that can make a difference.

Data analysis provides a diagnostic tool to hone in on areas where employee satisfaction and commitment can be improved and areas where an agency is doing well. It can't be stressed enough that while focusing on needed changes, agency leaders also should celebrate successes to solicit employee support for continued efforts.

While three questions from the federal employee survey are used to create the overall Best Places to Work index score, most of the other questions from the survey are used to rank each organization on the 10 workplace categories.

When agencies see a dramatic decline in a workplace category score from year to year, generally more than five points, it could be a warning sign and worth further exploration in strategy and planning sessions. …