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 this website, please contact us.
Data Sources and Methodology
What is the data source used for the Best Places to Work rankings?
The majority of the data used to develop the rankings was collected by the Office of Personnel Management through its Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. The survey was administered as a census to all full-time and part-time, permanent, nonseasonal executive branch employees between September and November 2020. It was completed by 624,800 federal workers, for a response rate of 44.3%, a 1.7-point increase from 2019. The Best Places to Work rankings include responses from more than 303,800 additional employees at 12 agencies that conducted separate surveys at the same time and had a response rate of more than 50%. 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. Visit our methodology page for more information.
Visit OPM’s website to learn more about the FEVS methodology.
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 12 additional agencies and the intelligence community. In addition, we rank agency subcomponents. We also provide extra information for every agency on eight workplace categories that range from employee opinions on leadership to their perceptions of work–life balance.
Why doesn’t the 2020 edition of Best Places to Work include the strategic management, support for diversity, and the training and development workplace categories?
The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, on which the Best Places to Work rankings are based, was amended in 2020, omitting some questions that appeared in previous editions of the survey. Due to these omissions, we were unable to calculate strategic management, support for diversity, and training and development workplace category scores. Further, the performance-based rewards and advancement workplace category was renamed recognition to better reflect the smaller number of FEVS questions used to calculate its score.
What is the data source for the private-sector data?
Mercer, our technical partner, supplies data that is used to create the private sector Best Places to Work engagement score and provides employee responses to 21 questions that offer points of comparison with the federal government. The benchmarks from Mercer are based on a normative database that is continually updated with client census survey data. Currently, more than 1.5 million survey responses from organizations in more than 150 countries are added to Mercer’s database each year. This year’s benchmarks are comprised of more than 8 million employee survey responses from over 500 companies collected between 2016–2020.
What is the source of the demographic data included in the agency profile?
The demographic data on the agency pages is from OPM’s FedScope database. The information is based on full-time, nonseasonal, permanent employees at the end of fiscal 2020, unless otherwise noted.
Why would an agency not have scores in some categories?
Several agencies do not take the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, but participate in the rankings voluntarily. These agencies conduct employee surveys comparable to OPM’s survey and include our three employee engagement questions. The surveys may or may not include the questions required for each category. We have calculated category scores for these agencies where data is available. These agencies are the Congressional Budget Office, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation, Government Accountability Office, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Peace Corps, Securities and Exchange Commission, Smithsonian Institution, Tennessee Valley Authority’s Office of the Inspector General, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the United States Postal Service’s Office of the Inspector General. In addition, the rankings incorporate responses from employees at the nation’s intelligence agencies.
Should I compare 2020 Best Places to Work scores with scores from previous years?
No. Of the 71 core questions that have traditionally been included in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, only 38 appeared in the 2020 edition of the survey. Although the three questions that comprise our engagement score were included in the 2020 FEVS, their position in the 2020 survey was different than their position in the 2019 survey, potentially impacting how the questions are answered. Further, the Partnership in 2020 changed how it calculates the percentage of positive responses to the FEVS questions to align with the Office of Personnel Management. Prior to 2020, the percentage of positive responses was calculated by dividing the number of employees who answered a question positively by the total number of employees who completed the survey. Beginning with the 2020 edition of Best Places to Work, the percentage of positive responses was calculated by dividing the number of employees who answered a question positively by the number of employees who answered that question. Because of the methodological change, it would not be appropriate to compare 2020 scores with scores from previous years.
Why don’t the 2020 Best Places to Work rankings report which agencies were “most improved?”
Because of changes to the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and our decision to modify how we calculate the percentage of positive responses to FEVS questions (see above), we are not reporting engagement score point changes or most improved agencies in 2020.
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 government-wide annual employee survey can be part of the Best Places to Work rankings if they conduct a comparable survey that includes our three employee engagement questions. The survey needs to be administered during the same time frame as the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and have at least a 50 percent response rate. Please contact us to learn more about the survey requirements and how your agency can participate.
What is the definition of large, midsize and small in the agency rankings?
Agencies with 15,000 or more employees are included in the large agency category. Those with 1,000 to 14,999 employees are included in the midsize agency category. Agencies 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 2020, unless otherwise noted.
Why are agencies grouped by size?
We group agencies by workforce size to provide comparisons of organizations 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).
When will the next Best Places to Work rankings be released?
The next Best Places to Work rankings will be released shortly after OPM administers and releases the results of its 2021 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
Scores and Rankings
What does the Best Places to Work employee engagement score measure and how is it calculated?
The rankings are based on the Best Places to Work employee engagement score. For the purposes of our reporting, 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 Best Places to Work employee engagement score is derived from three different questions in OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey:
- 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 on the job, the higher the weighting. The weightings for the formula are proprietary.
The percentage of positive responses is calculated by dividing the number of employees who answered a question positively by number of employees who answered that particular question. Prior to the 2020 edition of the Best Places to Work rankings, the percentage of positive responses was calculated by dividing the number of employees who answered a question positively by the total number of employees who completed the survey. The change also aligns with OPM’s methodology used in analyzing the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
The government-wide employee engagement score is calculated using data from agencies that participate in the FEVS. While agencies that conduct their own internal surveys, such as the Peace Corps, the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Veterans Affairs, are included in the rankings, their data is not used in the calculation of the government-wide employee engagement score. Visit our methodology page for more information.
How were the workplace categories originally determined?
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 original 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 federal survey questions included in each category.What the Categories Measure Guide
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 are the best predictors of the Best Places to Work employee engagement score. Government-wide, the key driver is effective leadership, followed by employee skills–mission match and pay.
What are the definitions of “senior leaders” and “supervisors”?
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 career appointment and typically a member of the Senior Executive Service or equivalent.
Managers: Those in management positions who typically supervise one or more supervisors.
Supervisors: Typically those who are responsible for employees’ performance appraisals and leave approval.
Why aren’t past rankings shown?
We have different numbers of agencies participating in the rankings every year. For example, in 2007, 222 subcomponents participated in the rankings while 411 subcomponents were included in 2020. We also have made changes to the ranking’s categories. For these reasons, the rank is not the most accurate reflection of an agency’s performance over time. We recommend focusing on agency scores and quartile trends instead.
What can an agency do to improve its Best Places to Work scores?
There are many steps that agencies can take to improve employee engagement, and we offer a variety of resources, events and assistance for federal managers to better understand their data and build a tailored plan. To help leaders drive reforms, we work in partnership with agencies to conduct custom data analysis and lead them through a series of 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 resources 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 is the search engine and database for federal government jobs. 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 the Partnership’s 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.