The nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service (PPS) recently released the 2013 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings. The government-wide score of 57.8 out of 100 is the lowest score since the rankings were first published in 2003. This is the third straight year the score has decreased, dropping 7.2 points from a high of 65.0 in 2010. 

In contrast, employee satisfaction in the private sector improved by 0.7 points in 2013, for a score of 70.7, according to Hay Group, a technical partner with the Partnership for Public Service. For the eighth time in a row, the primary driver of employee satisfaction and commitment is effective leadership, and in particular, senior leadership. In 2013, senior leaders continued to receive low scores from employees, with a government-wide rating of 45.4 out of 100. 

“There is no doubt the three year pay freeze, furloughs, budget cuts, ad hoc hiring freezes and continued uncertainty are taking their toll on federal workers,” said Max Stier, Partnership for Public Service president and CEO. “What it really means is that agencies aren’t positioned to successfully meet the needs of the American people.” 

Top 10 Agencies 

Produced by PPS, in partnership with Deloitte, The Best Places to Work measures overall federal employee job satisfaction and commitment, critical elements in developing high-performing workplaces needed to meet the nation’s challenges, as well as employee attitudes on a range of other workplace categories, such as satisfaction with pay, leadership, teamwork and strategic management. The rankings provide a way to hold agency leaders accountable for the health of their organizations and offer insights for improvement.

Rankings include 371 federal agencies and subcomponents, which represent 97 percent of the 2.1 million person federal workforce. Agencies are ranked within one of four categories: large agency, mid-size agency, small agency, and federal subcomponent. Scores and rankings are revealed for all agencies and subcomponents, from first to worst. 

Rankings are based on data from the Office of Personnel Management’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, which was conducted from April through June of 2013. Additional survey data from eight agencies plus the Intelligence Community are included in the Best Places to Work results.

The 2013 top 10 Best Places to Work large federal agencies are  

  1. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  2. Department of Commerce
  3. Intelligence Community
  4. Department of State
  5. Department of Justice
  6. Social Security Administration
  7. Department of Health and Human Services
  8. Department of Transportation
  9. Department of the Treasury
  10. Environmental Protection Agency (tie) / Department of the Navy (tie).

Additional Findings

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The Best Places to Work also ranks agencies in 10 workplace categories, including effective leadership, pay, strategic management, training and development, employee skills–mission match, work–life balance, and support for diversity. Agencies also are ranked by demographic groupings, including age, gender, race and ethnicity.

For the second year in a row, the government-wide data show a decline in each of the 10 workplace categories. No surprise, the largest drop is in employee satisfaction with pay. The second biggest workplace category decline is training and development opportunities, which fell 3.2 points.

Effective leadership was the key driver, as it has been every year since the rankings launched in 2003. But it continues to be one of the lowest-rated workplace categories, with a score of 51.8.

But there are some bright spots. “Ten Years of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® Rankings: How Six Federal Agencies Improved Employee Satisfaction and Commitment” offers case studies of the agencies that are getting it right by investing in leadership development and technical training. 

For example, the State Department offers a wide variety of options ranging from leadership and specific skill training to language classes and negotiation techniques. The Mint developed a cross-training program to allow employees to shift between product lines and use different machinery to create coinage. This gave employees more variety in their work, but also provided the organization with more flexibility in using personnel to meet pressing needs. The USPTO often brings in external stakeholders to run training programs for patent examiners on new technologies. 

Top agencies also have found positive results in establishing mentoring and coaching programs and by encouraging mobility and rotational and special assignments. 

The complete rankings are available at bestplacestowork.org, or download the special report at http://bestplacestowork.org/BPTW/assets/BestPlacestoWork13_CaseStudiesReport.pdf.