Best Places to Work shows ‘tide turning’ for employee satisfaction in 2015

Nearly three-quarters of the agencies improved their scores as a place people want to work, helping to make 2015 the first time in four years that employee satisfaction and commitment improved among the government workforce.

Today the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte released their 2015 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government, and while there are some familiar faces in the top slots, officials with the nonprofit said the overall report shows “the bottom line is really positive this year.”

The partnership found federal employee satisfaction and commitment scored 58.1 out of 100 points in 2015, a 1.2-point increase from 2014.

“This is the first time in four years that we’ve had an improvement, which is really exciting,” said Mallory Bulman, research director at the partnership, on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “We are not yet where we were, though. Back in 2010, we were up at 65, so we still have a ways to go. But it’s really nice to see the tide turning.”

NASA, once again, led the large agencies as the best place to work, improving on its score for the fourth year in a row, while the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and the Office of the Inspector General for the Tennessee Valley Authority topped their respective size categories.

Agencies are ranked by large (15,000 or more employees), mid-size (1,000-14,999 employees) small (100-999 employees) and subcomponents (bureaus, divisions, centers or offices).

Top 5 Best Places to Work by Agency Size
Large Mid-Size Small Subcomponents
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Office of the Inspector General (Tennessee Valley Authority)
Intelligence Community Peace Corps Overseas Private Investment Corporation Office of the General Counsel (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission)
State Department (tie) Government Accountability Office Federal Labor Relations Authority U.S. Army Audit Agency
Department of Justice (tie) Federal Trade Commission National Endowment for the Humanities Environment and Natural Resources Division (Justice)
Department of Commerce Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Surface Transportation Board Office of Budget, Finance, and Award Management (National Science Foundation)

 

“We actually saw quite a few changes this year,” Bulman said. “We know that the administration and individual agencies have really been putting in a lot of effort on satisfaction and commitment, and you really do see changes as a result.”

While scores improved, overall  the governmentwide score still lags behind that of the private sector, which in 2015 was 76.7, according to information provided by research organization Sirota.

bestplaces2015

Among the large agencies with the most improvement was the Department of Labor at 4.4 points, while the Department of Housing and Urban Development rose 8 points in the mid-size category. Within the small agency category, the Federal Maritime Commission rose nearly 15 points.

While HUD officials had set a goal of improving by two points — it still ranks in the bottom five mid-size agencies — when officials learned about the agency’s 8-point jump “we were very, very excited,” said HUD Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti in an interview with Federal News Radio. “This was a big goal of Secretary [Julian] Castro … to improve HUD to make the agency stronger, but also to make it a better place to work. We did that in a number of ways. We used a lot of communication tools. We really wanted to increase transparency and communication with our employees, just much more frequently. We used tools that had been launched before and really leaned in on crowdsourcing tools.”

Among those tools is Switchboard, a type of internal platform, where employees can suggest improvements and vote on them and get feedback, and something called HUD Connect, an internal social media platform, Coloretti said “to get information out and hear from people in real time.”

Coloretti said she also started a set of “deep dive” conversations, in which meetings were held with every department program, operational area and every region “to learn more about people’s ideas for making HUD a better place to work. We actually put teams together and are working on all those ideas right now.”

New categories, demographics

This year’s ranking had several “firsts.”

Bulman explained that this is the first year the partnership used six mission categories  to compare 75 organizations. Bulman said what the partnership has heard from agencies is that they don’t think of themselves as small, medium and large. While the partnership did rank agencies this year by size, along with that categorization it also grouped agencies into: law enforcement, public health, national security, oversight energy and the environment and financial regulation.

“What we have seen is within these categories, you have individuals with very much the same training, focusing on very much the same mission and sometimes there’s as much as a 30-point gap between the top agency and the bottom agency,” Bulman said. “What I’m hoping during the coming years is that we’re able to convene those agencies, they’re able to share practices, and we’re able to actually start to learn even more about [employee] satisfaction and commitment.”

The partnership also, for the first time, included results for five mission-critical occupations: auditors, contract/acquisition specialists, economists, human resources specialists and information technology/cybersecurity specialists.

This year also sees the introduction of a new LGBT demographic grouping.

Room to improve

Bulman acknowledged that some agencies needed more work.

The Department of Homeland Security was, once again, at the bottom of the list of large agencies, with a score of 43.1 — compared to NASA’s score of 76.1 — but Bulman said “there’s not a uniform picture there.”

With large agencies, while the overall score might not be great, its subcomponents might tell a different story. DHS’ Office of the Secretary improved 7.6 points, and its management directorate rose 5.9 points.

Bulman acknowledged the Secret Service dropped by 13 points, which is reflective of the public and congressional criticism it’s currently receiving, but that area of DHS used to be one of the to performers early on in the partnership’s rankings, she said.

“It’s bad news this year, but this is a one-year data point,” Bulman said.

Similarly, the Department of Veterans Affairs also is at the bottom of the large agency rankings, but its benefits administration branch improved by 3.9 points, and its office of inspector general went up 4.4 points.

Another area where the partnership looks for improvement is in leadership.

“We know leadership profoundly matters,” Bulman said. “We break down the leadership score into individual supervisors, senior leaders and other factors related to leadership. Individuals tend to rate their individual supervisors very very highly, they tend to believe they get good supervision from the person with whom they work very closely. Where that score drops off dramatically is senior leaders … we have a lot of room to grow in that area.”

In a statement from National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon, he said that while the satisfaction score might be up, employee morale still needs improvement.

“This is not surprising when federal employees face a barrage of unfair attacks from some in Congress on health care, retirement and workplace rights, inadequate pay raises that won’t cover rising costs and the recurring possibility of yet another government shutdown, ” Reardon said. “Staffing declines and workload increases have become a fact of life in most federal agencies, and this badly hurts morale.”

While external influences aren’t always easy to address, Reardon said within agencies, developing a relationship between managers and front-line staff promotes happier employees.

“If agencies are truly interested in raising employee satisfaction, we strongly encourage them to work with their union representatives to find ways to achieve this important goal,” he said.

This is the 10th Best Places to Work ranking, according to the partnership. The rankings started in 2003. The ranking includes nearly 400 federal agencies and their subcomponents, representing about 97 percent of the workforce.

The rankings are based largely on information drawn from the annual Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.