A Look Across the Federal Government
Federal employees faced formidable challenges in 2020 due to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, with the majority the nation’s civil servants working remotely while tens of thousands were on the frontlines maintaining the continuity of our government and delivering critical services to the public.
Federal agencies rose to the occasion despite the disruptions and hardships, posting a score of 86.1 out of 100 in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government COVID-19 category that measures employee views on the support they received during the pandemic.
This positive response included employee opinions on whether their organizations supported their mental and physical well-being during the pandemic (88.6); whether they received the resources they needed to do their work (88.6); whether their agencies were able to successfully deliver on their missions in the midst of the crisis (85.8); and whether they had leaders who communicated effectively and prioritized their welfare (81.4).
In addition, the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, on which the Best Places to Work rankings and findings are based showed that 85.4% of employees surveyed reported that their work unit “achieved our goals” at least most of the time during the pandemic while 84% said their colleagues cooperated to get the work done.
These responses occurred between mid-September and early November of 2020, with 59% of respondents reporting that they teleworked every day during the peak of the pandemic compared to just 3% before the pandemic.
The data suggests that the majority of federal leaders understood the needs of their employees and the challenges they faced during an extremely difficult time, and sought to engage and support the workforce in new and innovative ways. This included providing employees with the technology necessary to do their jobs in remote settings, flexibility to meet their personal needs and greater collaboration within agencies and across the government.
The 2020 experience provides a pathway for the future of federal work that could involve greater reliance on telework, and enhanced use of technology for internal operations and for the improved delivery of services to the public.
Overall, the 2020 Best Places to Work government-wide employee engagement score was 69.0 points out of 100. This government-wide score measuring employee satisfaction with their jobs and organizations fell short of the private sector, which registered an employee engagement rating of 77.0. The private sector data includes more than 8 million survey responses collected between 2016 and 2020 from a range of companies and industries.
The government’s goal should be to meet or exceed the private sector when it comes to employee engagement.
The Work Experience
Besides the government-wide engagement score, the 2020 Best Places to Work data provides insights into various aspects of the federal employee experience that includes their views of agency leaders. While employees felt their leaders supported them during the pandemic, additional data based on a set of non-COVID related questions shows that long-standing issues with leadership still persist in the eyes of the federal workforce.
The 2020 government-wide score for the effective leadership workplace category stood at just 64.2 out of 100. Supervisors drew a rating of 78.0 out of 100, but senior leaders came in considerably lower at 57.8 out of 100. In addition, employees gave their leaders only a 57.9% rating on empowerment, which measures satisfaction with their involvement in work processes and decisions that affect their work.
On other work-related issues, federal agencies posted a score of 75.9 out of 100 for the match between employee skills and agency missions; 75.7 for work-life balance; 72.1 for teamwork; 67.0 for satisfaction with pay; 66.6 for agency efforts to be innovative; and 61.5 for agency efforts to recognize the good work of employees.
In addition, only 42.9% of respondents agreed that “the results of this survey will be used to make my agency a better place to work” compared to 66% for the private sector, a 23.1 point gap. Top performing federal agencies like NASA, which in 2020 had a score of 68.2% on this survey question and topped the private sector, believe that being responsive to employee concerns is a key factor in job and organization satisfaction.
The response to the pandemic demonstrated that proactive federal leaders can have a big impact on employee engagement. This experience provides a unique opportunity for President Joe Biden and his administration to build on the lessons of the past year by placing a heightened focus on improving government-wide federal employee job satisfaction and commitment, factors that are critical for a well-functioning government that can successfully meet the needs of the public.
Government Lags Behind the Private Sector
The private sector employee engagement score for 2020 is 77.0 out of 100, eight points higher than the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government tally, according to data provided by employee research firm Mercer.
The private sector data is based on more than 8 million employee survey responses from organizations in a wide variety of industries that were collected between 2016 and 2020. The Best Places to Work data is based on the views of more than 928,000 civil servants across the federal government who participated in employee surveys during 2020.
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 Government Leaders Stand Out and Fall Short
In addition to providing a private-sector comparison to the Best Places to Work government-wide employee engagement score, Mercer has provided comparative data for 21 questions that are in the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey administered by the Office of Personnel Management.
On a positive note for the government, 84.1% of federal employees said the people they work with cooperate to get their jobs done compared to 78.0% in the private sector, a 6.1-point difference. The surveys also show that 67% of federal employees are satisfied with their pay compared to 54% in the private sector, a 13-point difference in favor of the government.
In addition, federal employees are more likely to report that supervisors treat them with respect than in the private sector, and listen to what they have to say.
Although agencies responded effectively to employee concerns during the pandemic, the private sector registered higher levels of satisfaction on 14 of the 21 survey questions dealing with everyday workplace issues.
The largest gap – 23.1 points – was on the issue of the employee voice. Just 42.9% of federal employees agreed that the results of the FEVS will be used by their leadership to make their organizations better places to work compared to 66.0% in the private sector.
In addition, 82% of private sector employees reported having trust and confidence in their supervisors, beating the government by 6 points. Moreover, 78.1% of federal employees reported satisfaction with their immediate supervisors, 2.9 points lower than the private sector.
Federal leaders also lag behind the private sector when it comes to creating a culture of innovation. The data shows that 66.6% of public servants feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing their jobs, 7.4 points lower than the private sector.
Private sector employees also are more satisfied than civil servants when it comes to whether their talents are used well in the workplace, with the private sector score at 79.0% compared to 65.9% for federal employees, a difference of 13.1.
Overall, federal leaders have substantial work to do to make the federal employee experience competitive with the private sector.
Government/Private Sector Comparison Questions
|I believe the results of this survey will be used to make my agency a better place to work.||42.9||66.0||-23.1|
|My talents are used well in the workplace.||65.9||79.0||-13.1|
|How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work?||57.9||69.0||-11.1|
|Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your job?||71.6||81.0||-9.4|
|Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization?||65.6||75.0||-9.4|
|I feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things.||66.6||74.0||-7.4|
|I have trust and confidence in my supervisor.||76.0||82.0||-6.0|
|I can disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule or regulation without fear of reprisal.||68.5||74.0||-5.5|
|I recommend my organization as a good place to work.||70.7||76.0||-5.3|
|I know what is expected of me on the job.||83.5||87.0||-3.5|
|Overall, how good a job do you feel is being done by your immediate supervisor?||78.1||81.0||-2.9|
|My workload is reasonable.||66.7||69.0||-2.3|
|My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment.||74.6||76.0||-1.4|
|I know how my work relates to the agency’s goals.||87.1||88.0||-0.9|
|My supervisor treats me with respect.||86.5||86.0||0.5|
|My supervisor listens to what I have to say.||82.7||81.0||1.7|
|I am given a real opportunity to improve my skills in my organization.||69.9||68.0||1.9|
|My supervisor supports my need to balance work and other life issues.||84.8||82.0||2.8|
|Supervisors in my work unit support employee development.||77.8||73.0||4.8|
|The people I work with cooperate to get the job done.||84.1||78.0||6.1|
|Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your pay?||67.0||54.0||13.0|