While federal officials boasted modest gains governmentwide in employee satisfaction and morale in the 2017 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey released Thursday, not all agencies kept up with the overall improvement.
Across government, the measure of worker happiness—represented by the global satisfaction index—increased by 3 points, from 61 last year to 64 in 2017. This marks the third straight year that satisfaction increased, although 2017 also marks the lowest response rate among employees in recent memory—45.5 percent.
But some agencies have seen progress on worker morale slow or reverse course. The State Department saw the worst swing among agencies with at least 1,000 employees, the apparent culmination of months of news about discontent within the department. Its global satisfaction index score dropped 2 points from 2016, while engagement dropped 1 point, and employees’ response rate decreased by 16.9 percentage points.
In August, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that he would shut down the department’s in-house employee online forum called Sounding Board. That same month, then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon attacked Susan Thornton, acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and a career fed, in an interview with The American Prospect.
Officials at the State Department did not return requests for comment on declining morale.
The six large agencies with the worst year-over-year performance in their FEVS satisfaction score are:
1. State Department: 2 point decline
2. National Credit Union Administration: 2 point decline
3. Justice Department: 1 point decline
4. Veterans Affairs Department: no change
5. Environmental Protection Agency: no change
6. Office of Personnel Management: no change
A number of agencies with fewer than 1,000 employees saw much worse declines, although organizations with smaller workforces often see more drastic changes from year to year.
The African Development Fund saw the worst drop-off in employee happiness, reversing some of its landmark gains from the previous year. The agency jumped from a satisfaction index of 18 in 2015 up to 62 last year. But in 2017, it fell again to 47.
And the Federal Labor Relations Authority dropped 9 points in employee happiness, as well as 17 percentage points in its response rate. In August, union officials decried the Trump administration’s nominees for the Federal Service Impasses Panel, which is housed within FLRA, for their alleged “disdain for the labor community.” Some have argued actions like this are part of a larger effort by the White House to install an anti-labor agenda.
Here are the six small agencies that saw the biggest decreases in employee satisfaction since last year:
1. African Development Fund: dropped 15 points
2. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board: dropped 12 points
3. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission: dropped 11 points
4. Federal Labor Relations Authority: dropped 9 points
5. Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board: dropped 8 points
6. Selective Service System: dropped 8 points