Government Lags Behind the Private Sector
Although the private sector has been adversely affected by many of the same workplace issues as the government during the COVID-19 pandemic, data provided by employee research firm Mercer found the private sector employee engagement score for 2021 is 79.1 out of 100, 14.6 points higher than the 2021 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government tally of 64.5 out of 100.
Out of 71 large, midsize and small agencies included in the 2021 Best Places to Work rankings, only 12 agencies scored higher than the private sector average.
Federal leaders should understand that the federal government competes with the private sector for top talent, and they should endeavor to meet or exceed employee engagement and satisfaction levels seen in the best private sector companies. These organizations recognize that increased employee engagement and satisfaction leads to better performance and outcomes, and federal leaders need to follow suit by placing greater emphasis on improving employee engagement and the workplace culture.
Though a range of private sector employee engagement measures exist, the data supplied by Mercer allows for a direct comparison with the Partnership’s Best Places to Work employee engagement and satisfaction statistical model. This comparison includes 2021 federal and private sector results.
Mercer also supplied a five-year private sector average that includes more than eight million employee survey responses from organizations in a wide variety of industries that were collected between 2017 and 2021. (See chart below) This allows for a benchmark against private sector experience over a broader period. Finally, the data presents an opportunity for question-by-question comparisons on key issues facing both sectors. This is the first time both single year and five-year average private sector results have been shared.
The Best Places to Work data is based on the views of civil servants across the federal government who participated in employee surveys during 2021.
Where Government Leaders Stand Out and Fall Short
In addition to the private-sector comparison to the Best Places to Work government-wide employee engagement and satisfaction score, Mercer provided comparative data for 22 questions that are in the 2021 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey administered by the Office of Personnel Management and used as part of our analysis.
On a positive note for our government, federal employees had a score of 83.4 out of 100 when asked whether the people they work with cooperate to get their jobs done, compared to 79.0 in the private sector. Despite decreasing pay satisfaction in government, federal employees had a score of 61.2 when asked whether they are satisfied with their pay compared to a score of 58.0 in the private sector, a 3.2-point difference in favor of the government. In addition, federal employees are more likely to report that supervisors support their professional development than they are in the private sector.
Overall, however, the private sector registered higher levels of satisfaction on 19 of the 22 survey questions in 2021 dealing with everyday workplace issues.
The private sector five-year averages from 2017 to 2021 for all survey questions held steady or increased slightly when compared with the five-year averages for 2016 to 2020, showing stability in the face of tumultuous times.
The private sector scores for 2021 exceeded the five-year private sector average except for one question, “My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment.” Although these are not direct comparisons, it is notable that on the federal side, the scores for 21 out of these 22 questions were lower in 2021 than they were in 2020.
The largest gap between the private sector answers and federal employees – 30.9 points – was on the issue of the employee voice. Government employees had a score of 40.1 out of 100 when asked whether the results of the federal survey will be used by their leadership to make their organizations better places to work—the lowest score on the survey– compared to a score of 71.0 in the private sector.
In addition, private sector employees registered a score of 83.0 when it came to having trust and confidence in their supervisors, beating the government by 7.4 points. Moreover, federal employees had a score of 77.8 when asked whether they were satisfied with their immediate supervisors, 2.2 points lower than the private sector.
Federal leaders also lag behind the private sector when it comes to creating a culture of innovation. Public servants registered a score of 64.4 when asked whether they feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing their jobs, 11.6 points lower than the private sector.
Both private sector employees and federal employees do not believe their workloads are reasonable, with the private sector’s workload satisfaction score at 69 compared to 62.2 for federal employees.
However, both sets of employees believe their supervisors support a healthy work-life balance for them, with both scores in the 80s.
Overall, the findings indicate that federal leaders have substantial work to do to make the federal employee experience competitive with the private sector.
Due to methodology changes, a five-year average for the Best Places to Work workplace category questions is not feasible.
Government/Private Sector Comparison Questions
Government-wide Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® data: Partnership for Public Service.
Private sector data: Mercer.
|Government-wide 2021||Private Sector 2021||Private Sector 2017-2021|
Government/Private Sector Comparison Questions
|Question Text||Gov’t-wide 2021||Private Sector 2021||2021 Difference|
|I am given a real opportunity to improve my skills in my organization.||68.2||73.0||-4.8|
|I feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things.||64.4||76.0||-11.6|
|My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment.||71.1||75.0||-3.9|
|I know what is expected of me on the job.||81.5||88.0||-6.5|
|My workload is reasonable.||62.2||69.0||-6.8|
|My talents are used well in the workplace.||63.6||82.0||-18.4|
|I know how my work relates to the agency’s goals.||85.0||89.0||-4.0|
|I can disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule or regulation without fear of reprisal.||68.3||75.0||-6.7|
|The people I work with cooperate to get the job done.||83.4||79.0||4.4|
|Employees in my work unit adapt to changing priorities.||79.9||84.0||-4.4|
|I recommend my organization as a good place to work.||66.5||78||-11.5|
|I believe the results of this survey will be used to make my agency a better place to work.||40.1||71.0||-30.9|
|My supervisor supports my need to balance work and other life issues.||83.5||85.0||-1.5|
|Supervisors in my work unit support employee development.||77.4||76.0||1.4|
|My supervisor listens to what I have to say.||82.2||83.0||-0.8|
|My supervisor treats me with respect.||86.2||89.0||-2.8|
|I have trust and confidence in my supervisor.||75.6||83.0||-7.4|
|How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work?||55.7||71.0||-15.3|
|How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job?||57.0||70.0||-11.0|
|Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your job?||66.7||86.0||-19.3|
|Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your pay?||61.2||58.0||3.2|
|Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization?||61.0||75.0||-14.0|
Private Sector Data Comparison Over Time
|Question Text||Private Sector 2017-2021||Private Sector 2016-2020|
|I am given a real opportunity to improve my skills in my organization.||69.0||68.0|
|I feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things.||74.0||74.0|
|My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment.||76.0||76.0|
|I know what is expected of me on the job.||87.0||87.0|
|My workload is reasonable.||69.0||69.0|
|My talents are used well in the workplace.||80.0||79.0|
|I know how my work relates to the agency’s goals.||88.0||88.0|
|I can disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule or regulation without fear of reprisal.||74.0||74.0|
|The people I work with cooperate to get the job done.||78.0||78.0|
|I recommend my organization as a good place to work.||76.0||76.0|
|I believe the results of this survey will be used to make my agency a better place to work.||68.0||66.0|
|My supervisor supports my need to balance work and other life issues.||82.0||82.0|
|Supervisors in my work unit support employee development.||73.0||73.0|
|My supervisor listens to what I have to say.||81.0||81.0|
|My supervisor treats me with respect.||86.0||86.0|
|I have trust and confidence in my supervisor.||82.0||82.0|
|How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work?||69.0||69.0|
|How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job?||68.0||67.0|
|Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your job?||81.0||81.0|
|Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your pay?||55.0||54.0|
|Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization?||75.0||75.0|