Sending Out an SOS in the Workplace Rankings

Best Places to Work survey shows pay freeze, furloughs and budget cuts are having real consequence.

Federal employee job satisfaction and commitment climbed steadily from 2003 to 2010 in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, but have declined since then and this year hit an all-time low, erasing the hard won gains.

Not only has the governmentwide score fallen to 57.8 on a scale of 100, a 7.2-point drop since 2010, but so too have the scores for all 10 of the workplace categories that the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte measure, including  strategic management, effective leadership, skills-mission match, teamwork and work-life balance.

This is not just about satisfied employees. Employees have a deep understanding of what is happening in their organizations and they are warning leaders that many federal agencies are not positioned to successfully meet the needs of the American people.

When asked whether they have sufficient resources to do get their jobs done, only 44 percent of federal employees responded favorably. When asked whether the workforce has the job-relevant knowledge and skills to accomplish organizational goals, a third of the workforce doesn’t believe so.

The lowest category score, only 41.2 out of 100, was in the area of performance-based rewards and advancement. Only 29 percent of federal employees believe that promotions in their work unit are based on merit and only 33 percent believe creativity and innovation are rewarded.

Pay, not surprisingly given the pay freeze and recent furloughs, is the second lowest scoring workplace category with a score of only 50.3 out of 100. But barely better are the scores for effective leadership and strategic management, at 51.8 and 52.6 respectively. Federal employees are dissatisfied with the level of information they are getting from leadership and they don’t believe leaders are doing a good job generating motivation and commitment from employees.

To put this in broader perspective, employee satisfaction in the private-sector improved slightly between 2012 and 2013, to a score of 70.7 out of 100, according to our technical partner, Hay Group. The government lags behind the private sector by 12.9 points on overall job satisfaction and commitment, but by a full 21.4 points on the question “How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job.”

Employees are sending federal leaders, and anyone else who will listen, a clear signal that the three-year pay freeze, furloughs, hiring slowdowns and severe budget cuts are having real consequence at a time when the demand for federal services is on the rise. It’s also noteworthy that these dismal scores don’t reflect the impact on morale of the October shutdown, since the survey was administered months before it occurred.

Nonetheless, there is some good news. Looking beyond the governmentwide results, many agencies -- like NASA, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Veterans Affairs Department -- were able to defy the downward trend and found ways to improve satisfaction and commitment in spite of the incredibly challenging environment.

Perhaps most heartening, though, is that more than 88 percent of federal employees believe the work they do is important.

To get more analysis and explore the complete Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, visit

Lara Shane is vice president of research and communications at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

(Image via Vectomart/