The Office of Personnel Management has released its annual snapshot of how happy federal employees are with their jobs. Based on a survey of about 400,000 workers, the picture OPM paints is glum. But not all work experiences are equal. Here are some of the finer data points in the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
NASA, the Federal Trade Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission continue to have the most engaged employees, according to OPM’s analysis of certain questions that probe employees’ feelings about motivation, competency, as well as their supervisors and bosses. The three agencies also topped the list in 2010, although, back then, NRC ranked first, NASA second and the FTC third.
“NASA’s 2014 survey scores represent an overall good news story for the agency,” according to NASA’s analysis of its results. Over the past year, the agency has tried to foster innovation and strengthen relationships between supervisors and employees, it said.
On the other end of the scale, DHS plummetted to the bottom of the employee engagement index, but it was just four steps away in 2010. Yet its slide means the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are not scraping the bottom, just close to it.
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The majority of agencies experienced large climbs and dips in employee engagement over the past five years, making the entire index look like a game of Chutes and Ladders. Sixteen of the larger agencies saw their engagement scores fall by at least 2 percentage points. Nine bucked that trend. The outliers included OPM, the Transportation Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. On a conference call with reporters, officials from those agencies said they had increased engagement through concerted efforts that included increased communication between agency leaders and employees, more awards ceremonies and giving employees the chance to do creative work outside of their regular duties.
Employees at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, surely can take some of the credit for the state’s rise to the top of the list, but it also is home to the headquarters of the Social Security Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, just to name a few others. Indeed, employees working at headquarters rather than in the field scored higher on both engagement and overall satisfaction with the jobs, according to the report. Virginia and the District of Columbia also ranked in the top 10 areas.
The least engaged workers can be found in the West. Nevada had the biggest slide in engagement rankings, from number 14 in 2010 to being tied with Montana at the very bottom this year.
The Obama Administration and Congress, through laws, regulations and resources, have encouraged agencies to welcome veterans to such a degree that some question whether it is preventing the government from picking the best candidate for a job. But the survey data shows there’s more work to do. Veterans, who make up nearly 29 percent of the workforce, report being less satisfied with their supervisors and more skeptical about their agencies’ personnel practices than other federal employees. For example, just 29 percent of veterans said promotions in their work units were based on merit, compared to 34 percent in the rest of the workforce. Underscoring the cynicism, just a third of veterans said they thought the survey results would be used to make their agencies better places to work.
After three years of a federal pay freeze, it seems the 1 percent pay increase at the beginning of this year made all the difference to employees. Pay satisfaction in the survey rose 2 percentage points over last year, the biggest increase of any data point. That bears well for next year’s survey. President Barack Obama is proposing another 1 percent raise.
But labor unions point to the survey’s overall poor results as proof that employees need more than a small pay raise.
“The fact that federal employee morale is low should come as no surprise. Federal employees have endured an unprecedented three years of pay freezes, are paying a larger share of their health insurance premiums, and have seen massive cuts to their retirement benefits,” said American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox said in a statement.
The agencies with the best survey results year after year pay higher-than-average salaries, he added.