The signature survey that aims to take the pulse of the federal workforce each year found slight gains this year in employees’ overall views over the organizations they work for, with 68% now saying they’re satisfied with their jobs — up two percentage points from 2022.
The question of job satisfaction is just one component of a broader index the Office of Personnel Management terms “employee engagement” — a composite score that tries to measure workers’ views on factors like effective leadership, meaningful work, and opportunities for growth. In 2023, that score increased to 72%, up one percentage point from the year before, and tying the government’s score from 2020 — a five-year high.
Meanwhile, 67% of employees said they’d recommend their agencies to job seekers, up from 65% in 2023.
“This year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey highlights that federal employees remain remarkably resilient, increasingly engaged, and value diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the workplace,” Kiran Ahuja, OPM’s director, said in a statement accompanying Monday’s release of the 2023 FEVS findings. “These encouraging results provide opportunities for agencies to build momentum and support their workforce to leverage workplace flexibilities, continue advancing DEIA, and remain motivated to continue delivering for the American people.”
The DEIA component of FEVS is a relatively new addition — OPM added that component of the survey in 2022. Overall, 71% said they had favorable impressions of their agencies DEIA practices, up from 69% last year.
For example, on the question of whether supervisors give fair promotion and work opportunities to all employees, 71% said yes this year, compared to 70% in 2022.
The increases in engagement and job satisfaction came as more federal employees were directed to return to the office in 2023, but the FEVS results do not yet appear show a sea change in the number of employees teleworking.
Only 6 percent of employees said they were not approved to telework, identical to the 2022 figure. This year, 23% said they teleworked “3 or 4 days per week.” The 2022 FEVS presented the question slightly differently: in that year’s survey, 25% said they teleworked “3 or more days per week.” But in 2023 — in a new option on the survey — an additional 14% said they teleworked every day.
In any event, federal agencies’ flexible or “hybrid” work arrangements shouldn’t be expected to ever relent back to the modest levels that were prevalent in most federal workplaces prior to 2020, Ahuja told attendees last week at ACT-IAC’s Imagine Nation conference in Hershey, Pa.
“It’s the place of the future — we’re not going to go back to a pre-pandemic environment,” she said. “We hear all the time about how [agencies] want more flexibilities for their offices, and how it is key to recruitment, especially in the IT workforce. So we get it. We’ve increased the number of remote positions in the federal government — if you go on USAJobs, there’s a lot more. But I think we also need to understand the value of in person engagement. That’s part of creating the balance that we need, both in the flexibilities, but also the value of the one-on-one engagement.”
OPM offered the survey to employees who’d been onboard at their agencies since at least November 2022. The 2023 FEVS showed a notable increase in the total response rate: nearly 626,000 feds, or 39% of those eligible, answered the survey. That compares to a 35% response rate in 2022, the first year in which OPM conducted a full-scale FEVS after two years of pared-down versions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite only modest gains on the overall employee engagement score, officials noted the positive trend differs from what surveys have been finding about the broader U.S. workforce. Gallup surveys of the wider working population — which ask questions slightly different from the phrasing in OPM’s survey — have shown declining engagement for the past three years in a row.
Another bright spot in this year’s survey: the Performance Confidence Index, a composite of several questions that tries to measure employees views on how well their agencies are meeting their stated mission remains extremely high, at 84%, and on par with last year’s survey. Within that category, 87% of respondents said they and their fellow employees meet their customers’ needs, 83% said their colleagues perform high-quality work, and 80% said their office’s work is able to adapt to changing priorities.
But as in past years, the 2023 results show employees don’t think their agencies do a particularly good job of dealing with colleagues who aren’t contributing to the mission. 41% said those poor performers are typically allowed to stay in their jobs and continue to underperform, down only one percentage point from last year. However, 18% said those employees do improve over time, an uptick of two percentage points from 2022. In both years, 19% said there are no poor performers in their offices.