Methodology

The Partnership for Public Service created the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings in 2003 to provide the most comprehensive rating of employee engagement and satisfaction across federal agencies and their subcomponents. We use the term employee engagement and satisfaction to refer to the commitment of the workforce, their job and organizational satisfaction, and the willingness of employees to put forth discretionary effort to achieve results. 

The 2021 Best Places to Work rankings include 503 federal agencies and their subcomponents, the most in the history of the rankings: 17 large agencies, 25 midsize agencies, 29 small agencies and 432 subcomponents. We group agencies by workforce size to provide comparisons of agencies that may face similar management challenges.  

Large agencies are those organizations with 15,000 or more employees. Agencies with 1,000 to 14,999 employees are included in the midsize category. Small agencies are those with at least 100 but fewer than 1,000 employees. 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 the Office of Personnel Management’s FedScope database for September 2021.  

View List of Participating Agencies

Data Source

The majority of the data used to develop these rankings was collected by the Office of Personnel Management through its Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey The survey was completed by 292,520 federal workers, with a response rate of 34%.  

It should be noted that the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey was administered differently in 2021 than in previous years. The survey was administered as a census to all full-time and part-time, permanent, nonseasonal executive branch employees and some temporary employees in most agencies, but employees in the top 10 largest agencies were sampled. This means only a representative selection of employees were invited to participate. The survey period was reduced from six to five weeks, and it was administered between November and December 2021 instead of during the more customary spring administration period. These factors contributed to a 10-point decrease in response rate from 2020. However, the OPM data was weighted to represent all federal employees on demographic characteristics such as age, gender, race, supervisory status, agency size and occupation. Visit OPM’s website to learn more about the FEVS methodology. 

The Best Places to Work rankings include responses from more than 313,200 additional employees at 12 agencies that conducted their own employee surveys.  Employees were surveyed around the same time when the FEVS was administered and had a response rate of more than 50%. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation, Government Accountability Office, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps, Securities and Exchange Commission, Smithsonian Institution, the United States Postal Service’s Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Veterans Affairs provided data from their own surveys. In addition, the rankings incorporate responses from employees at the nation’s intelligence agencies, which conducted a similar survey but did not report the number of respondents. Their data is not used in the calculation of the government-wide employee engagement and satisfaction score. However, because these agencies conducted employee surveys that included the three questions needed to calculate an agency’s Best Places to Work employee engagement and satisfaction score, they are included in our index rankings. Also, because their surveys did not include some of the questions used to calculate workplace category scores, they are included in some workplace categories and not others.  

Best Places to Work Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Ranking and Scores Calculation

The rankings are based on the Best Places to Work employee engagement and satisfaction score. For the purposes of our reporting, we use the term employee engagement and satisfaction to refer to the commitment of the workforce, their job and organizational satisfaction, and the willingness of employees to put forth discretionary effort to achieve results. 

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

The Best Places to Work employee engagement and satisfaction 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 and are weighted according to a formula developed with the Hay Group (Later acquired by Korn Ferry) in 2007. 

The percentage of positive responses is calculated by dividing the number of employees who answered a question positively by the number of employees who answered that 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 and satisfaction 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 and satisfaction score.  

Workplace Category Rankings and Scores Calculation

The workplace category scores are calculated by averaging the percentage of positive responses to the respective survey questions across different aspects of the employee experience. 

This year, the 12 workplace categories include effective leadership, employee skills-mission match, satisfaction with pay, teamwork, innovation, work-life balance, how employees are recognized for performance, and a set of categories evaluating how effectively agencies supported employee and navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously combined COVID-19 categories of employee well-being and supportive leaders have been broken up to reflect their planned inclusion in non-COVID-19 FEVS survey questions in the future. Agency performance and work unit performance were added, as was a new category assessing employee experience of the return to the office. The support for diversity question category has again been eliminated due to piloting a selection of new diversity questions in the 2021 FEVS, but it will return in future Best Places to Work rankings. 

Workplace categories are calculated based on the measurement model that CFI Group developed 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. Since then, the workplace categories have been modified to reflect the changes in FEVS survey questions. Some categories are created while others are removed to better represent pressing problems in federal agencies.  

Changes to the workplace categories are made based on academic literature and statistical analysis to ensure validity of workplace categories.  As a result, agencies may have missing workplace category scores if data for any of the sub-questions that comprise the category is not available. 

Best Places to Work Category2021 FEVS QuestionsQuestion Number
Best Places to Work IndexI recommend my organization as a good place to work. 23
Best Places to Work IndexConsidering everything, how satisfied are you with your job? 42
Best Places to Work IndexConsidering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization? 44
Effective Leadership: EmpowermentHow satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work?39
Effective Leadership: Senior LeadersIn my organization, senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce.32
Effective Leadership: Senior LeadersMy organization’s senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.33
Effective Leadership: Senior LeadersI have a high level of respect for my organization’s senior leaders.37
Effective Leadership: Senior LeadersHow satisfied are you with the information you receive from management on what’s going on in your organization? 40
Effective Leadership: SupervisorsSupervisors in my work unit support employee development. 27
Effective Leadership: SupervisorsMy supervisor listens to what I have to say. 28
Effective Leadership: SupervisorsMy supervisor treats me with respect. 29
Effective Leadership: SupervisorsI have trust and confidence in my supervisor. 30
Employee Skills–Mission MatchMy work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment.3
Employee Skills–Mission MatchMy talents are used well in the workplace.6
Employee Skills–Mission MatchI know how my work relates to the agency’s goals.7
InnovationI feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things.2
PayConsidering everything, how satisfied are you with your pay?43
RecognitionEmployees are recognized for providing high-quality products and services. 20
RecognitionHow satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job? 41
TeamworkThe people I work with cooperate to get the job done. 9
TeamworkManagers promote communication among different work units (for example, about projects, goals, needed resources). 35
Performance: Work UnitEmployees in my work unit contribute positively to my agency’s performance. 15
Performance: Work UnitEmployees in my work unit produce high-quality work. 16
Performance: AgencyMy agency is successful at accomplishing its mission. 22
Work–Life Balance My workload is reasonable.5
Work–Life Balance My supervisor supports my need to balance work and other life issues. 25
COVID: Employee Well-Being Questions ask respondents whether a resource was needed and available to them, needed but not available to them, or not needed by them:
COVID: Employee Well-Being Expanded telework. 47a
COVID: Employee Well-Being Expanded work schedule flexibilities. 47b
COVID: Employee Well-Being Expanded leave policies. 47c
COVID: Employee Well-Being Clear guidance on COVID-19 vaccination protocols.47d
COVID: Employee Well-Being Appropriate physical health resources (e.g., access to COVID-19 testing) at my agency worksite.47e
COVID: Employee Well-Being Timely communication about possible COVID-19 exposure at my agency worksite.47f
COVID: Employee Well-Being Social distancing in my agency worksite.47g
COVID: Employee Well-Being Encouraged use of personal protective equipment (PPE) or other safety equipment in my agency worksite.47h
COVID: Employee Well-Being Cleaning and sanitizing performed regularly in my agency worksite to reduce risk of COVID-19 illness.47i
COVID: Employee Well-Being A well-ventilated worksite.47j
COVID: Employee Well-Being Clear guidance on quarantine requirements after any COVID-19 exposure.47k
COVID: Supportive Leaders My organization’s senior leaders demonstrate commitment to employee health and safety.48
COVID: Supportive Leaders My organization’s senior leaders support policies and procedures to protect employee health and safety. 49
COVID: Supportive Leaders My supervisor shows concern for my health and safety. 51
COVID: Supportive Leaders My supervisor supports my efforts to stay healthy and safe while working. 52
COVID: Supportive Leaders My supervisor creates an environment where I can voice my concerns about staying healthy and safe. 53
COVID: Return to the OfficeMy organization's senior leaders provide effective communications about what to expect with the return to the physical worksite. 50
COVID: Return to the OfficeMy agency's leadership updates employees about return to the worksite planning. 55
COVID: Return to the OfficeIn plans to return more employees to the worksite, my organization has made employee safety a top priority. 56

Comparison to Scores from Previous Years

The 2021 Best Place to Work scores can be compared to the 2020 scores, but because of the methodological changes made in 2020, it would not be appropriate to compare these scores to years before 2020.   

In 2020, the Partnership changed how it calculates the percentage of positive responses (e.g., percentage of respondents who answered “agree” or “strongly agree”) 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 Place 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 particular question. This change resulted in smaller denominators, filtering out respondents who skip questions as well as slightly larger percentage-positives. Because of the methodological change, scores from the years prior to 2020 cannot be compared to 2020 and 2021. 

In addition, for the fourth year in a row, the Department of Veterans Affairs did not participate in the 2021 FEVS and instead administered its own internal survey. Because VA is such a large agency, scores from the years VA was included in the FEVS (2003 to 2017) cannot be compared to the scores after VA started to conduct its own survey (from 2018 onwards). Since the VA’s survey included the three questions needed to calculate an agency’s Best Places to Work employee engagement and satisfaction score, the department is included in our rankings. However, like other agencies that conduct their own surveys, we have not included the VA’s data in the calculation of the 2021 government-wide score.  

The Partnership and BCG would like to thank OPM for its excellent administration of its employee survey, without which the Best Places to Work rankings would not be possible.