Government-wide Analysis

Overall Findings and Private Sector Comparison

A look across the federal government

The 2019 federal government-wide Best Places to Work employee engagement score is 61.7 out of 100, a 0.5-point decrease from 2018.

This modest dip came during a time when about 800,000 of the 2 million federal employees were affected by a lengthy government shutdown, when there were a number of critical leadership vacancies at agencies across government, and when many agencies were dealing with a variety of political crosscurrents.

The 2019 data shows government-wide improvements in some aspects of the employee experience, with small increases in eight of 10 categories that help define the employee experience. The biggest gains were in training and development as well as performance-based awards and advancement, both up by 0.8 points. Effective leadership, which encompasses employee views of their supervisors, senior leaders, fairness in the workplace and individual empowerment, rose by 0.3 points. The categories with declining scores were satisfaction with pay, down by 0.4 points, and support for diversity, which dropped by 0.2 points.

On individual survey questions used to calculate these workplace category scores, 66.8% of the respondents said they are given a real opportunity to improve their skills, up 1.5 points, while 61.2% said they feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things, up 1.0 point. In addition, 89.3% said the work they do is important, the same as in 2018. 

The 2019 data also shows that 45.0% of the organizations included in the rankings registered an increase in employee engagement compared to 39.6% in 2018, 73.8% in 2017 and 72.3% in 2016.

The 2019 data shows a need for federal agencies to step up efforts to improve the employee work 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.

Government lags behind the private sector

In contrast to the government-wide Best Places to Work score, the 2019 private sector employee engagement score is 77.0 out of 100, 15.3 points higher than the government, according to data provided by employee research firm Mercer | Sirota.

Only 11 of the government’s 70 large, midsize and small agencies included in the Best Places to Work rankings scored above the private sector average this year, including NASA, the Federal Trade Commission and the Peace Corps.

The private sector data is based on nearly 6.5 million employee survey responses from organizations in a wide variety of industries. The Best Places to Work data is based on the views of more than 883,000 civil servants across the federal government who participated in employee surveys.

Federal leaders should understand that the government competes with the private sector for the best talent, and they should endeavor to meet or exceed employee engagement levels seen in the best private sector companies. The best private sector organizations understand that increased employee engagement leads to better performance and outcomes, and federal leaders need to follow suit by placing greater emphasis on improving employee engagement and workplace culture.

Where federal leaders fall short

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 29 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 nearly all survey questions. The largest gap – 30 points – is on the issue of the employee voice. Just 37.0% of federal employees believe the results of the FEVS will be used by their leadership to make their organizations better places to work. This compares to 67.0% of private sector employees who believe survey results will be used constructively by their leaders.

Failing to act on employee concerns is not the only area where federal leaders – including supervisors and managers – lag behind their private sector counterparts.

Eighty-two percent of private sector employees reported having trust and confidence in their supervisors, beating the government by 13 points. In addition, 71.0% of federal employees reported satisfaction with their immediate supervisors, 10 points behind the private sector.

Regarding recognition from management, less than 45% of federal employees believe that awards in their work units depend on how well they perform their jobs, compared to 51.0% of employees in the private sector. In addition, 51.6% of federal employees feel they are recognized for providing high- quality products and services compared to 67.0% of private sector employees

Federal leaders also are struggling to create a culture of innovation across government. About 61% of public servants said they feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing their jobs, lagging almost 14 points behind the private sector.

In addition, private sector employees are more satisfied than civil servants with the support they receive for training and development. In the private sector, 74.0% of employees said their supervisors support their development compared to 67.3% in the federal government. Moreover, 66.0% of private sector employees are satisfied with the training they receive compared to 53.3% in government. 

There are, however, two areas where government does match or outperform the private sector: professional development and pay. In 2019, 66.8% of federal employees said that they are given real opportunities to improve their skills compared to 67.0% of private sector employees, a gap of only 0.2 points.

And when asked about their pay, 59.5% of federal employees said that they are satisfied compared to 54.0% of their private sector counterparts. This reinforces how strongly mission and other factors motivate federal employees.

But the data also shows that federal leaders have substantial work to do to make the federal employee experience competitive with the private sector.


*In 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs decided not to participate in the FEVS. The government-wide employee engagement score from 2003 to 2017 includes the views of employees from the VA. The scores in 2018 and 2019 do not include their data. Because the VA represents approximately 18% of the federal workforce, the government-wide scores between 2003 and 2017 should not be compared to scores in 2018 and 2019.

Government-wide Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® data: Partnership for Public Service.
Private sector data: Mercer | Sirota.


The Best Places to Work rankings, produced by the Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group, offer the most comprehensive assessment of how federal public servants view their jobs and workplaces, providing employee perspectives on leadership, pay, innovation, work-life balance and other issues. The vast majority of the data used to develop the scores and rankings was collected by the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey from May to July 2019.


The Best Places to Work engagement score is calculated using a proprietary weighted formula that looks at responses to three different questions in the federal survey. The more the question predicts intent to remain, the higher the weighting.

  • I recommend my organization as a good place to work. (Q. 40)
  • Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your job? (Q. 69)
  • Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization? (Q. 71)

Methodology List of Participating Agencies Frequently Asked Questions

Question Gov’t-wide Private Sector Difference
I believe the results of this survey will be used to make my agency a better place to work. 37.0 67.0 -30.0
I have sufficient resources (for example, people, materials, budget) to get my job done. 48.4 72.0 -23.6
My talents are used well in the workplace. 60.1 79.0 -18.9
Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization? 57.0 75.0 -18.0
Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your job? 64.5 81.0 -16.5
How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work? 51.6 68.0 -16.4
Employees are recognized for providing high quality products and services. 51.6 67.0 -15.4
I feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things. 61.2 75.0 -13.8
I have trust and confidence in my supervisor. 69.0 82.0 -13.0
How satisfied are you with the training you receive for your present job? 53.3 66.0 -12.7
I recommend my organization as a good place to work. 64.5 76.0 -11.5
My supervisor provides me with constructive suggestions to improve my job performance. 64.1 75.0 -10.9
I can disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule or regulation without fear of reprisal. 64.5 75.0 -10.5
My workload is reasonable. 58.7 69.0 -10.3
Overall, how good a job do you feel is being done by your immediate supervisor? 71.0 81.0 -10.0
Physical conditions (for example, noise level, temperature, lighting, cleanliness in the workplace) allow employees to perform their jobs well. 65.9 73.0 -7.1
Awards in my work unit depend on how well employees perform their jobs. 44.2 51.0 -6.8
I know what is expected of me on the job. 80.2 87.0 -6.8
Supervisors in my work unit support employee development. 67.3 74.0 -6.7
My supervisor treats me with respect. 80.8 86.0 -5.2
My supervisor listens to what I have to say. 76.3 81.0 -4.7
My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment. 71.8 76.0 -4.2
I have enough information to do my job well. 71.2 75.0 -3.8
I know how my work relates to the agency's goals. 84.3 88.0 -3.7
My supervisor supports my need to balance work and other life issues. 78.6 82.0 -3.4
My performance appraisal is a fair reflection of my performance. 70.0 73.0 -3.0
The people I work with cooperate to get the job done. 76.7 79.0 -2.3
I am given a real opportunity to improve my skills in my organization. 66.8 67.0 -0.2
Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your pay? 59.5 54.0 +5.5