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Federal Job Satisfaction Sinks in Latest Survey

NASA, Commerce and State top nonprofit Partnership’s annual list.

Employee satisfaction and commitment declined to their lowest levels since the 2003 debut of the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” report in the edition released Tuesday by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte Consulting LLP.

The new overall score of 56.9 out of 100, based on employee responses to three key questions in this spring’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, marks the fourth-straight year of decline, a fall of 8.1 points from a high of 65 in 2010, the report said. Private sector satisfaction scores, by contrast, rose 1.3 points to 72, according to a technical analysis included in the two-part report.

The five agencies with the most satisfied employees in 2014 are NASA, the Commerce and State departments, followed by the 17-agency Intelligence Community and the Justice Department.

Least satisfied are workers at the Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and Army departments, followed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Air Force Department.

“Despite there being no government shutdown this year, the larger ecosystem challenges continue to be dramatic,” Max Stier, president and CEO of the partnership, told Government Executive. “You still have a phenomenally difficult budget situation -- not just size but uncertainty because of [Congress’ reliance on] continuing resolutions. It’s not about pay or the continuing attacks from some quarters, though those are real.” Stier said. “Employees just want to be able to do their jobs and have the support and resources to make that happen.”

Overall, Stier said, the best agencies got better and the worst got worse. “If you don’t have leadership that prioritizes effective management, you’re going to have challenges with any organization. In the declining agencies, we’re not seeing enough investing in people and creating a culture of people who do jobs well.” Add to that not having enough resources to do the job, he said, and “you don’t have the fundamentals of a healthy organization.”

The good news is that 43 percent of the agency subcomponents saw their scores rise, up from 24 percent in 2013, Stier noted. “That shows that good leadership, even in a challenging environment, makes all the difference in the world.”

The less good news is that senior leaders continued to receive low scores from employees; their rating governmentwide dipped 3 points to 42.4, the lowest in the history of the rankings.

The Partnership scored 389 agency units using an index based on answers to three questions from the annual Office of Personnel Management survey. They include:

  • Would you recommend your organization as a good place to work?
  • How satisfied are you with your job?
  • How satisfied are you with your organization?”

Analysts also factor in 10 categories of workplace indicators related to leadership, teamwork, strategic management and innovation.

NASA employees enjoyed their third year in a row topping the list, with a satisfaction score of 74.6. In the mid-size category, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. achieved a top-ranked score of 82.3, and the highest ranking small agency was the Surface Transportation Board, with a score of 86.8.

The largest declines in satisfaction and commitment showed up among large agencies at Homeland Security at 2.8 points. The biggest drop at a mid-size agency was at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, where the score fell 5.3 points. Among small agencies, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission had the largest falloff at 14.3 points. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a small agency, is the lowest scoring agency of all 389, down 11.7 points, to 33.8 out of 100.

Among the large agencies set to receive a most improved award from the partnership and Deloitte on Tuesday is the Labor Department, which raised its score 3.1 points. Among the most improved mid-size agencies, the Securities and Exchange Commission notably raised its score 4.9 points. Among small agencies, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative raised its score a striking 19.1 points.

Overall, the Partnership sees the result of its ninth such report as a call for “fundamental management reforms across government to ensure that agencies can effectively meet the needs of the American people,” Stier said.

The analysts’ advice to agencies is to hold executives accountable for using employee survey data and use the data as a measure of their success; partner with unions; design and execute short-term activities to act on employee feedback that can contribute to a longer-term culture change; develop shared values; use multiple communication methods to connect employees to the mission, the agency and their coworkers; and invest in employees through leadership, technical training and mentoring.

(Image via Minerva Studio/Shutterstock.com)

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