Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke testifies on Capitol Hill. DHS is one of the agencies that improved its scores.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke testifies on Capitol Hill. DHS is one of the agencies that improved its scores. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The 6 Agencies Where Employee Happiness Has Improved the Most

The Homeland Security Department and the Chemical Safety Board continue their upward trends.

Federal employees said they are happier and more engaged for the third straight year in 2017, according to an annual survey of the government’s workforce.

The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, released by the Office of Personnel management Thursday, found that the global satisfaction index, a score that measures workers’ happiness with compensation, their individual jobs and the overall organization, rose 3 points from 61 in 2016 to 64 this year. Although engagement and happiness increased among employees who participated in the survey, the overall response rate fell to 45.5 percent, the lowest share in recent memory.

Performance varied across government, with several departments improving far more quickly than the overall results. After making modest gains in 2016 to reverse a long-running decline in employee satisfaction, the Homeland Security Department led the pack among agencies with at least 1,000 employees, touting a 6-point increase in satisfaction since last year and a 4-point increase in employee engagement.

The six large agencies that saw the best improvement in satisfaction compared with 2016 are:

1. Homeland Security Department: 6 point increase

2. National Labor Relations Board: 6 point increase

3. Small Business Administration: 6 point increase

4. U.S. Agency for International Development: 6 point increase

5. Transportation Department: 5 point increase

6. General Services Administration: 5 point increase

Homeland Security officials celebrated their improvement in a statement. Since its inception in 2001, the department was dogged by poor morale and a revolving door at the top of the agency, drawing the ire of members of Congress.

“DHS has taken tremendous strides in recent years to ensure that its workforce feels supported, empowered, and equipped to successfully execute the duties and responsibilities necessary to keep our nation secure,” the department said. “To further these efforts, Acting Secretary [Elaine] Duke launched a Year of Leadership at the beginning of October 2017 to reinforce the culture of leadership excellence that exists at DHS and to promote resources and tools for the department’s current and future supervisors and managers so that they may receive the training and education required for effective leadership.”

Small Business Administration spokesman Terrance Sutherland said in an email that the agency's leadership is always working to make sure employees are engaged and feel valued.

"We see a direct correlation in employee engagement with overall employee satisfaction and their willingness to participate in the survey," he said. "Compared to previous years, we saw more employees positively responding to questions about agency accomplishments, SBA’s senior leadership, and on recommending SBA as a good place to work. 91 percent of employees feel that their work is important, a metric that continues to be an SBA strength each year."

Some smaller agencies saw a much greater improvement to their employees’ happiness, possible in part because changes in management and culture can have a swifter impact on workforces with fewer people.

The six agencies with fewer than 1,000 employees that saw the greatest upticks in employee satisfaction over the past year are:

1. Chemical Safety Board: 22 point increase

2. Commission for Civil Rights: 18 point increase

3. National Mediation Board: 11 point increase

4. Federal Election Commission: 10 point increase

5. Corporation for National and Community Service: 10 point increase

6. U.S. Access Board: 10 point increase

Chemical Safety Board Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said her agency’s strong performance reflects management’s hard work to improve morale and engagement. In 2015, the CSB hit a low score of 36 in the global satisfaction index, and this year’s gains bring that mark to 70.

“The FEVS scores are extremely important to us and we took a significant effort to review our previous scores and challenged ourselves on how to improve the agency’s effectiveness, productivity and compliance,” she said. “I am pleased that these scores reflect positively on that effort.

This post has been updated to include additional comments from agency officials.