Government-wide Analysis

Overall Findings and Private Sector Comparison


Government-wide scores increase for the third consecutive year

The 2017 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government ® data show a 2.1-point jump in employee engagement compared to 2016, for a score of 61.5 out of 100. This represents the largest yearly increase in the history of the Best Places to Work rankings, the highest overall score since 2011, and builds on a 2.5-point improvement during the previous two years.

The steady increase in employee engagement, which we define as the satisfaction and commitment of federal workers and their willingness to put forth discretionary effort to achieve results, follows a concerted effort by agencies across government to improve how employees view their leaders, supervisors and work experience.

Maintaining this momentum will require a strong commitment from the Trump administration to continue to improve the employee experience – from training and developing leaders to ensuring employees have a positive work environment and the resources they need to do their jobs. Having a highly-motivated and engaged workforce is critical to a well-functioning government and the success of our country.

Large agencies that excelled in 2017 include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services, while top midsize agencies include the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Government Accountability Office and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Among small agencies, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service led the pack, followed by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

The Department of Homeland Security, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the National Labor Relations Board, while still well behind top-ranked agencies, showed significant improvement. But the Department of State, the intelligence community, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, all fell behind.

Of the 410 agencies included in the rankings, 73.8 percent saw their overall employee engagement scores improve. Employee engagement scores increased at 72.3 percent of the agencies in 2016, 70.4 percent in 2015 and just 43.1 percent in 2014. In addition, the 2017 government-wide data show increases in all 10 workplace categories measured, including effective leadership, teamwork, work-life balance, strategic management, support for diversity and pay.

The Best Places to Work rankings are based almost entirely on data from the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Although OPM provided important government-wide and agency data from its 2017 survey, it withheld information until early December on many small agencies and subcomponents. This made it impossible for the Partnership to include these organizations in the 2017 rankings released on December 6. The Partnership has since analyzed the additional data provided by OPM and revised the rankings to include 210 more small agencies and subcomponents. OPM’s decision to provide additional agency data will help Congress and the Trump administration obtain a more comprehensive picture of federal workforce engagement.

The initial decision to withhold data stemmed from an OPM review of its privacy policies, resulting in limiting the available data to agencies and work units with 300 or more respondents instead of 50 respondents.

Government lags behind the private sector

While there have been gains in federal employee engagement during the past three years, there is an urgent need for additional progress, especially when comparing the government to the private sector.

According to Mercer | Sirota, a survey research organization, the 2017 employee engagement score for private sector employees is 77.8 out of 100, representing a 16.3-point gap with the federal government. Only 12 federal agencies scored above the private sector average this year.

Best in class private-sector organizations understand that improved employee engagement leads to better performance and improved outcomes. The Trump administration should aspire to meet the private sector standard by placing a focus on supporting the federal workforce and improving the workplace culture.

Big gaps exist on resources, merit-based awards and performance management

The private sector data, supplied by survey research firm Mercer | Sirota, is based on nearly 4.7 million employee survey responses at more than 120 organizations around the world in a wide variety of industries. The Best Places to Work data is based on the views of more than 498,000 civil servants across the federal government who participated in employee surveys.

In addition to providing a private-sector comparison to the Best Places to Work government-wide employee engagement score, Mercer | Sirota provides comparative data for 28 questions that are in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey administered by the Office of Personnel Management.

The federal government scores fall below the private sector on all survey questions by an average of 11.3 points. The largest gap—30.9 points—is on the issue of employee voice. Just over one-third of federal employees believe the results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey will be used to make their organizations better places to work. This compares to 68 percent of private sector employees who believe that leaders will use the results of their surveys to improve the employee experience.

Government also significantly underperforms the private sector on the issues of resources and merit-based awards. Less than half of federal employees feel they have sufficient resources to do their jobs, while 71 percent of private sector employees are satisfied on this issue. And just over 40 percent of federal employees believe that awards in their work unit depend on how well employees do their jobs, compared to 64 percent in the private sector.

In addition, 69 percent of employees in the private sector and 64 percent in the federal government believe their organizations give them the opportunity to improve their skills, but just 58.3 percent of federal employees reported that their talents are used well in the workplace, compared to 78 percent in the private sector, a nearly 20 point gap.

Another critical area where the results clearly reveal room for the federal government to improve is performance management. Employees in the private sector and the federal government have similar views regarding the annual performance appraisal itself: more than two-thirds of employees in both sectors agree their reviews are fair. However, only 61.6 percent of government employees say they receive constructive feedback compared with 76 percent of employees in the private sector, a nearly 15-point difference. There is an even larger gap of 18.5 points on the question of recognition and rewards. In the private sector, 67 percent of employees believe they are rewarded for great performance, while only 48.5 percent of government employees feel they are recognized for high quality work.

The gap is less stark in the area of supervisor-employee communication. The private sector exceeds the federal government by only five points when it comes to employees feeling that their supervisors listen to what they have to say. And in two areas – satisfaction with pay and willingness to put in extra effort – the government exceeds the private sector. In the federal government, 57.4 percent of the employees surveyed expressed satisfaction with their pay compared to 55 percent in the private sector. When asked if they are willing to put in extra effort to get a job done, more than 95 percent of government employees answered in the affirmative compared to 83 percent of private sector employees.

Question Best Places Category Gov’t-wide Private Sector Difference
Awards in my work unit depend on how well employees perform their jobs N/A 40.7 64 -23.3
Employees are recognized for providing high quality products and services Performance-Based Rewards and Advancement 48.5 67 -18.5
Employees are recognized for providing high quality products and services Performance-Based Rewards and Advancement 48.5 67 -18.5
How satisfied are you with the information you receive from management on what’s going on in your organization? Effective Leadership 47.6 54 -6.4
How satisfied are you with the training you receive for your present job? Training and Development 51.6 64 -12.4
How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work? Effective Leadership 50.1 68 -17.9
I am given a real opportunity to improve my skills in my organization Training and Development 64.0 69 -5.0
I can disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule or regulation without fear of reprisal Effective Leadership 61.7 76 -14.3
I feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things Innovation 58.9 77 -18.1
I have enough information to do my job well Training and Development 70.7 79 -8.3
I have sufficient resources (for example, people, materials, budget) to get my job done Work-Life Balance 47.1 71 -23.9
I have trust and confidence in my supervisor N/A 66.9 82 -15.1
I know how my work relates to the agency’s goals and priorities Employee Skills-Mission Match 83.2 88 -4.8
I know what is expected of me on the job N/A 79.6 87 -7.4
My performance appraisal is a fair reflection of my performance Performance-Based Rewards and Advancement 69.9 74 -4.1
My supervisor listens to what I have to say N/A 75.0 80 -5.0
My supervisor provides me with constructive suggestions to improve my job performance N/A 61.6 76 -14.4
My supervisor supports my need to balance work and other life issues Work-Life Balance 77.0 82 -5.0
My supervisor treats me with respect N/A 79.5 86 -6.5
My talents are used well in the workplace Employee Skills-Mission Match 58.3 78 -19.7
My training needs are assessed Training and Development 54.3 72 -17.7
My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment Employee Skills-Mission Match 71.5 78 -6.5
My workload is reasonable Work-Life Balance 58.5 72 -13.5
Overall, how good a job do you feel is being done by your immediate supervisor? Effective Leadership 69.4 83 -13.6
Physical conditions (for example, noise level, temperature, lighting, cleanliness in the workplace) allow employees to perform their jobs well N/A 65.7 74 -8.3
Supervisors in my work unit support employee development Effective Leadership 64.5 75 -10.5
Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your pay? Pay 57.4 55 +2.4
I believe the results of this survey will be used to make my agency a better place to work N/A 37.1 68 -30.9
When needed I am willing to put in the extra effort to get a job done N/A 95.2 83 +12.2

Data Source: Mercer | Sirota and OPM, 2017 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey