Employee satisfaction dips by record margin, with pay taking biggest plunge

Two-thirds of agencies see decrease in ratings on Best Places to Work survey.

Federal employee satisfaction has dropped to a nine-year low, according to a new study.

The governmentwide index score measuring satisfaction and commitment to the job was 60.8 out of a possible 100 in the annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey conducted by the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte. In 2011, the index score was 64. The groups used data from the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to aggregate ratings.

“The 2012 Best Places to Work results tell a troubling, but not surprising story,” said Max Stier, Partnership for Public Service president and CEO. “Our nation’s public servants have sent a clear signal that all is not well. The two-year pay freeze, budget cuts and ad hoc hiring freezes are taking their toll -- and this is a red flag.”

NASA scored the highest among large agencies -- those with more than 15,000 employees -- in the far-reaching survey with more than 700,000 federal employees representing 362 agencies and subcomponents. The intelligence community and State Department rounded out the top three in large-agency scores.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation held the highest score for medium-size agencies -- 1,000 to 14,999  employees -- while the Surface Transportation Board received the best marks for small agencies, and the top score overall at 84.3.

The lowest rated agency overall was the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative -- a small agency -- with a score of 32.7. The Broadcasting Board of Governors was the lowest ranked medium-size agency, while the Homeland Security Department held the dubious title for large agencies.

The Office of Management and Budget saw the biggest improvement from 2011, up 13.3 points. The Transportation Department improved its 2011 score by 4.1 points. The Federal Maritime Commission saw the largest overall drop at 21.9 points, while the Veterans Affairs Department fell 7.1 points.

The category with the largest governmentwide decrease was satisfaction with pay, which dipped 4.1 points to 55. None of the 10 categories used to assess the overall index score -- including pay, effective leadership, advancement and teamwork -- saw a net gain between 2011 and 2012.

Stier said that while pay freezes and derisive commentary toward federal employees have contributed to declining attitudes toward work, ultimately good leadership is capable of turning around the trend.

“The common element for the agencies that are doing well is really good leadership,” he said, adding it is not some administration directive leading the charge, but rather “individual leaders that prioritize making their organization run better and focusing on talent to make that happen.”

Success, Stier said, does not result from the intrinsic mission, but from the individuals who guide the workforce.

“Every agency has the ability to be NASA,” he said.

(Image via YanLev/Shutterstock.com)