Best Places to Work: How to read the results

The smaller the agency measured, the more widely scores vary. That means the quality and skills of local managers are crucial in employee attitudes.

Thanks to a sexy title and an organization with solid media chops, the Best Places To Work in the Federal Government (a copyrighted title) gets headlines each year. I know I anticipate the rankings as much as any scribbler.

This in spite of the fact that the same few agencies generally occupy the top slots — NASA, Government Accountability Office, Veterans Affairs, and the intelligence community. Not many shocks here.

The low-ranking agencies will be known next week. We in the press get an embargoed preview of the full top-to-bottom lists, so all I can say now is, you won’t find too many surprises there either. One phenomenon: Often individual component agencies or bureaus do much better or much worse than the average for the department. Another phenomenon: The range of indices on that 0-100 scale widens as unit sizes get smaller.

Here’s what I mean:

  • Large agencies range from 82.5 for NASA to 52.1 for XXX.
  • Mid-sized agencies, 87.2 for top-ranked GAO to 57.7 for bottom ranked XXX.
  • Small agencies, 93.6 for the National Indian Gaming Commission to 40.6 for XXX.
  • Agency subcomponents,  96.7 for the office of Negotiations and Restructuring at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to  38.1 for XXX.

In other words, employee engagement operates in a highly localized fashion.

That means, in turn, that the quality of local or unit management seems to be the determinant of employee engagement.

I don’t think it’s mission. Yes, NASA has the most exciting mission. GAO too has a highly important mission, just not one that makes for great garden party talk. But other agencies with exciting or crucial missions fall flat.

Neither does top leadership seem to be a determinant of engagement. Continuity of leadership has only a mild correlation with scores. The cabinet departments more or less retained their relative rankings during more than three years of the Biden administration and its stable secretary roster.

Performance isn’t necessarily a determinant. The Federal Trade Commission has lost case after case in court, yet it ended up in the top ten of mid-sized agencies.

If size of the measured agency or bureau has the most leverage on engagement scores, that means it’s not the secretary or administrator or director that matters the most, but rather the head of that bureau or division. The secretary might be a hack or a genius, but it’s managers people interact with daily that have the most effect on how people feel about their employer. What’s the old saying: People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.

Two additional notes

Did you notice that yesterday the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly reached 40,000? It hit 10,000 in 1999, in Bill Clinton’s second term as President. It hit 1,000 in 1972, during Richard Nixon’s first term. Goes to show, shovel as much as you can into your Thrift Saving Plan. To the extent you can, leave it there. The Dow is neither The Market nor your account, but it shows how the markets do over the long term.

I would like to note the untimely passing of Peg Hosky, an enduring and well-known presence in the federal information technology market. Peg had a knack for drawing industry and high level federal managers together in various forums to talk about how to improve government. She brought energy and enthusiasm to this work and to the various IT-related associations in which she was involved. Having known her for more than 30 years, I can say, Peg will be missed. To her husband Tom, daughter Claudia and son John — who formed her immediate family and the cohorts in her principal enterprise, FedInsider —  Federal News Network and I send our condolences.


Nearly Useless Factoid 

By: Derace Lauderdale

For the fifth consecutive year, Olivia and Liam are America’s most popular baby names.

Source: Social Security Administration 

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