These FAQs are designed to provide a better understanding of the Best Places to Work rankings. If you have questions about the rankings that are not covered here or elsewhere on our website, please contact us.

Data Sources and Methodology

What is the data source used for the Best Places to Work rankings?

The vast majority of the data used to develop the rankings was collected by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) through its Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). The survey was administered April through June 2015 to permanent executive branch employees and completed by more than 421,700 federal workers, for a response rate of 49.7 percent, which increased by 2.9 points from 2014. The Best Places to Work rankings also include responses from more than 11,600 additional employees at eight agencies that were surveyed at the same time and had a response rate of more than 50 percent. In addition, the rankings incorporate responses from employees of the intelligence community, which conducted its own similar survey but did not report the number of respondents due to classification restrictions. Visit our methodology page for more information.

Visit OPM’s website to learn more about the FEVS methodology.

Who can participate in the Best Places to Work rankings?

Any agency with at least 100 federal employees is eligible to participate in the Best Places to Work rankings. Eligible agencies that do not participate in OPM’s survey can be part of the Best Places to Work rankings if they conduct a comparable survey that includes our three index questions. The survey needs to be administered during the same time frame and have a minimum 50 percent response rate. Please contact us to learn more about the survey requirements and how your agency can participate.

How are your Best Places to Work rankings different from other rankings?

Our Best Places to Work rankings include only federal agencies, not private-sector or nonprofit employers as found in other workplace reports. The rankings are based on an extensive government-wide employee survey conducted by OPM, plus surveys from eight additional agencies and the intelligence community. In addition, we include rankings on agency subcomponents. We also provide extra information for every agency on 10 workplace categories that range from employee opinions on leadership to their perceptions of work–life balance.

What is the data source for the private-sector data?

Sirota, our technical partner, supplies data that are used for the private-sector Best Places to Work index score and also provides employee responses to 25 questions that offer points of comparison between the federal government and the private sector. The benchmarks from Sirota are based on a normative database that is continually updated with client census survey data. Currently, around 1.5 million employee survey responses from organizations in over 100 countries are added to Sirota’s database each year.

What is the source of the demographic data included in the agency profile?

The demographic data on the agency profile pages are from OPM’s FedScope database. The information is based on permanent employees as of fiscal year 2014, unless otherwise noted.

What is the definition of large, mid-size and small in the agency rankings?

Agencies with more than 15,000 employees are included in the large agency category. Those with 1,000 to 14,999 employees are included in the mid-size agency category. Any agency with more than 100 and fewer than 1,000 employees are included in the small agency category. Subcomponents—the subagencies, bureaus, divisions, centers and offices within agencies—need to have at least 100 employees to be included in the rankings. The number of employees was determined by using OPM’s FedScope database, at the end of fiscal year 2014, unless otherwise noted.

Why are agencies grouped by size?

We group agencies by workforce size to provide comparisons of agencies that may face similar management challenges in terms of numbers of employees and locations. The groupings have undergone several changes over the years. In 2003 the rankings featured only one list of agencies, including agencies as large as the Department of Defense (over 600,000 employees) and as small as the Office of Management and Budget (450 employees).

How are agencies selected for the mission area groups?

This year, in addition to grouping agencies by size, we are also grouping agencies by mission area. The six new mission area groups are: public health; law enforcement; national security; energy and environment; financial regulation; and oversight. The agencies that make up each group were selected based on their stated missions and dominant occupations. We also reviewed existing lists or laws of agencies by mission area. In one instance, we used the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 to identify financial regulation agencies.

Each of the groups were reviewed by a panel of external partners and independent experts. Each agency only belongs to one group on the list and there is no overlap between the groups. Inclusion in one of the mission area groups is dependent on the agency’s participation in the overall Best Places to Work rankings. This is a pilot year for the new groupings and therefore, all participating agencies are not represented in the current mission area groupings.

When will the next Best Places to Work rankings be released?

The next Best Places to Work rankings will be released shortly after OPM completes and releases its 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

Scores and Rankings

What does the Best Places to Work index measure and how is it calculated?

The overall rankings are based on the Best Places to Work index score, which measures employee satisfaction and commitment. The measurement model for Best Places to Work was created in 2003 by our partner, CFI Group, which uses the same methodology for the highly regarded American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

The Best Places to Work index score is derived from three different questions in OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS):

  • I recommend my organization as a good place to work.
  • Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your job?
  • Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization?

To calculate the score, we use the percentage of positive responses in a weighted formula. The more the question predicted intent to remain, the higher the weighting. The weightings for the formula are proprietary.

How were the workplace categories determined, and what survey questions does each include?

Our partner, CFI Group, created the measurement model for Best Places to Work in 2003. It used structural equation modeling to determine the clusters of questions included in each of the workplace categories: effective leadership; employee skills–mission match; pay; strategic management; teamwork; innovation; training and development; work–life balance; support for diversity; performance-based rewards and advancement.

The category scores are calculated by averaging the percentage of positive responses to the respective survey questions. Visit our methodology page or download our What the Categories Measure guide for a complete list of the FEVS survey questions included in each category.

Download Categories Guide

Why are the rankings from past years not included on the website?

We have different numbers of agencies participating in the rankings. For example, in 2007, 222 subcomponents participated in the rankings and the median rank was 111. In 2014, 315 subcomponents participated in the rankings and the median rank was 157. We also have made changes to categories and recalculated past scores but not past rankings. For these reasons, the rank is not the most accurate reflection of an agency’s performance over time. We recommend focusing on score and quartile trends instead. However, if you would like to know an agency’s past published rankings for historical context, please contact us.

How did you determine effective leadership was the key driver of the Best Places to Work index score?

We use regression analysis to determine which workplace categories were the best predictors of the Best Places to Work index score. Government-wide, the key driver is effective leadership, followed by employee skills–mission match and pay.

What are the definitions of “senior leader” and “supervisor”?

OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey included the following definitions:

Senior Leaders
The heads of departments/agencies and their immediate leadership team responsible for directing the policies and priorities of the department/agency. May hold either a political or a career appointment and typically a member of the Senior Executive Service or equivalent.
Those in management positions who typically supervise one or more supervisors.
First-line supervisors who do not supervise other supervisors; typically those who are responsible for employees’ performance appraisals and approval of their leave.

Why do some agencies not have scores in all the categories?

Several agencies are not represented in the FEVS and participate in the rankings voluntarily. These agencies conduct employee surveys comparable to the FEVS and include our three index questions. They may or may not include the questions required for the category scores. These agencies include: the Intelligence Community, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Government Accountability Office, Peace Corps, Smithsonian Institution, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Office of the Inspector General at the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the U.S. Army Audit Agency.

Why do some agencies not have scores for every demographic or occupational group?

To calculate a Best Places to Work index score for a demographic or occupational group at an agency, we require at least 30 respondents in the category. If there were fewer than 30, we did not report a score. We use most of the demographics in the OPM employee survey, including gender, age, race/ethnicity, disability, veterans, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) employees, and Senior Executive Service (SES).

For the first time, the Best Places to Work rankings include results based on the index scores of five mission-critical occupations across government, including auditor, contract specialist, economist, HR specialist, and IT specialist.

For Agencies

What can an agency do to improve its Best Places to Work scores?

There are many things that agencies can do to improve employee satisfaction, and we offer a variety of resources, events and levels of assistance for agencies to better understand their data and build a tailored action plan. To help leaders drive reforms, we launched an advisory services program that works in partnership with agencies to conduct custom data analysis and lead them through a series of action-planning activities that identify and address employee concerns. We also have compiled case studies that examine federal agencies that have successfully used their Best Places to Work data to drive change. Please see our agency services page for more details.

For Federal Job Seekers

I am trying to find a job in the federal government. Where do I go for more information?

USAJOBS.gov is the search engine/database for federal government jobs. As the one-stop shop for government jobs, USAJOBS.gov typically has roughly 30,000 vacancy announcements on the site at any given time. All of the competitive jobs, those that are open to non-federal employee applicants, are listed there. Many agencies will also list job openings on their websites.

Visit our Go Government website to learn successful strategies for finding and applying for federal government jobs.

I was thinking about applying for a job at an agency that is ranked low. Should I reconsider?

Not necessarily. We hope that job seekers will use our Best Places to Work website as a resource, but there are many other factors to take into consideration when thinking about applying for a job.