When President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office in January 2017, he will inherit a federal workforce that experienced fluctuations in employee engagement during the past eight years of the Obama administration. The first two years showed marked government-wide improvement, reaching an all-time high Best Places to Work score of 65.0 out of 100 in 2010. This was followed by a four-year downward cycle prompted in part by across-the board-budget cuts, pay and hiring freezes, a partial government shutdown and employee furloughs.
As some of the political headwinds began to ebb in late 2014, the Obama administration directed agencies to place a greater emphasis on strengthening the workforce and improving employee engagement. These efforts helped lead to increases in employee engagement at agencies across the government in 2015 and 2016 as well as improvements in the employee scores for all 10 workplace categories examined by the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte. We are using the term employee engagement to refer to the satisfaction and commitment of the workforce and the willingness of employees to put forth discretionary effort to achieve results.
The 2016 Best Places to Work data show a 1.3-point jump in federal employee engagement compared to 2015, for a score of 59.4 out of 100. This builds on the 1.2-point increase registered in 2015. But the federal government still lags well behind the private sector, which recorded an employee engagement score of 77.1 out of 100 in 2016, according of Sirota, a survey research organization. The government should aspire to closing that 17.7-point gap and matching the private sector’s employee engagement score.
Among individual federal organizations, 72.3 percent saw their overall employee engagement scores increase in 2016, compared to 70.4 percent in 2015 and 43.1 percent in 2014. Specifically, 77.8 percent of large agencies, 72 percent of midsize agencies, 57.1 percent of small agencies and 73.4 percent of the subcomponents experienced an increase in employee engagement in 2016.
When it comes to employee engagement, the private sector far outpaces the federal government. A comparison of 2016 Best Places to Work data and private sector survey results reveals a 17.7-point difference between the federal government (59.4) and the private sector (77.1) regarding employee engagement.
The private sector data, supplied by survey research firm 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 420,000 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, Sirota provides comparative data for 25 questions that are in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
The federal government scores fall below the private sector on all survey questions by an average of 13 points. The largest gaps—nearly 24 points—are 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 70 percent of private sector employees are satisfied on this issue. And just over one-third of federal employees believe that awards in their work unit depend on how well employees do their jobs, compared to 62 percent in the private sector. The gap is less stark in the area of supervisor–employee communication. The private sector exceeds the federal government by only about four points when it comes to employees feeling that their supervisors listen to what they have to say.
In addition, 68 percent of employees in the private sector and 62.5 percent in the federal government believe their organizations give them the opportunity to improve their skills, but just 56.4 percent of federal employees reported that their talents are used well in the workplace, compared to 78 percent in the private sector.
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 60.1 percent of government employees say they receive constructive feedback compared with 75 percent of employees in the private sector, a 15-point difference. There is an even larger gap of 22.2 points on the question of recognition and rewards. In the private sector, 68 percent of employees believe they are rewarded for great performance, while only 45.8 percent of government employees feel they are recognized for high quality work.
Many organizations in both the private and public sectors are reevaluating how they assess and promote high performance. There is growing evidence that frequent and constructive feedback from managers can be more helpful, motivating, and engaging for employees than annual performance reviews. These trends, along with our findings of big differences on feedback and recognition, suggest that federal agencies should consider new ways to improve performance conversations between managers and employees, and to honor employees for outstanding work.
|Question||Best Places Category||Gov’t-wide||Private Sector||Difference|
|My supervisor listens to what I have to say||N/A||73.8||78||-4.2|
|I am given a real opportunity to improve my skills in my organization||Training and Development||62.5||68||-5.5|
|I know how my work relates to the agency’s goals and priorities||Employee Skills-Mission Match||82.1||88||-5.9|
|My performance appraisal is a fair reflection of my performance||Performance-Based Rewards and Advancement||68.0||74||-6.0|
|My supervisor supports my need to balance work and other life issues||Work-Life Balance||75.7||82||-6.3|
|My supervisor treats me with respect||N/A||78.6||85||-6.4|
|My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment||Employee Skills-Mission Match||71.1||78||-7.0|
|How satisfied are you with the information you receive from management on what’s going on in your organization?||Effective Leadership||45.6||53||-7.4|
|I have enough information to do my job well||Training and Development||69.6||78||-8.4|
|I know what is expected of me on the job||N/A||78.4||87||-8.6|
|Physical conditions (for example, noise level, temperature, lighting, cleanliness in the workplace) allow employees to perform their jobs well||N/A||65.0||74||-9.0|
|How satisfied are you with the training you receive for your present job?||Training and Development||50.0||61||-11.0|
|Supervisors in my work unit support employee development||Effective Leadership||62.6||74||-11.4|
|Overall, how good a job do you feel is being done by your immediate supervisor?||Effective Leadership||68.2||82||-13.8|
|My workload is reasonable||Work-Life Balance||56.8||71||-14.2|
|My supervisor provides me with constructive suggestions to improve my job performance||N/A||60.1||75||-14.9|
|I can disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule or regulation without fear of reprisal||Effective Leadership||59.3||75||-15.7|
|I have trust and confidence in my supervisor||N/A||65.3||82||-16.7|
|My training needs are assessed||Training and Development||52.0||71||-19.0|
|How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work?||Effective Leadership||48.3||68||-19.7|
|I feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things||Innovation||56.8||77||-20.2|
|My talents are used well in the workplace||Employee Skills-Mission Match||56.4||78||-21.6|
|Employees are rewarded for providing high quality products and services||Performance-Based Rewards and Advancement||45.8||68||-22.2|
|Awards in my work unit depend on how well employees perform their jobs||N/A||38.5||62||-23.5|
|I have sufficient resources (for example, people, materials, budget) to get my job done||Work-Life Balance||46.3||70||-23.7|
Data Source: Sirota and OPM, 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey