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Federal Employee Engagement Is on the Decline

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Employee engagement declined at 59.1 percent of federal organizations, according to the latest findings from Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. Compiled by nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service and global management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group, the 2018 rankings represent a stark contrast to the previous three years, when more than 70 percent of federal organizations experienced gains in how employees viewed their jobs and workplace related issues.

The data also show a sharp drop in employee satisfaction in the three strongest drivers of employee engagement — effective leadership, the match between employee skills and agency missions, and pay. For instance, when isolating effective leadership, only 46.4 percent of federal organizations showed improvement in 2018, compared to 75.8 percent in 2017.

The 2018 Best Places to Work rankings include the views of employees from 488 federal agencies and subcomponents, the most in the history of the rankings. This includes 17 large federal agencies, 27 midsize agencies, 29 small agencies and 415 subcomponents. The majority of the data used to develop the Best Places to Work rankings was collected by the Office of Personnel Management’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, which was administered April through June 2018 to permanent executive branch employees. Additional employee survey data from 13 agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs and intelligence community, are included in the results. This is the 13th edition of the Best Places to Work rankings, which began in 2003.

Federal agencies that soared in 2018 include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which retained its number one large agency spot for the seventh year in a row, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which increased its score for the fourth consecutive year. The Federal Trade Commission rose from fourth place in 2017 to top honors in the midsize category while the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service topped the small agency category for the second year in a row. The Office of the General Counsel at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Inspector General at the Tennessee Valley Authority tied for top honors in the subcomponent category.


Another positive highlight is that the Securities and Exchange Commission has improved its Best Places to Work employee engagement score by 26.1 points since 2012, moving up in the midsize agency rankings from 19th six years ago to third place in 2018 and registering a score of 82.1. Meanwhile, the employee engagement score at the National Transportation Safety Board experienced a positive upward trend, increasing its score by 0.3 points to 77.8 and steadily moving up for the past five years.

Among the federal organizations experiencing a sizable drop in employee engagement were the departments of Agriculture, State, and Education; the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; the National Labor Relations Board; the Federal Labor Relations Authority; and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office at the Department of Homeland Security.

Specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency’s employee engagement score fell for the second year in a row, dropping 6.0 points to 57.5 in 2018. Employees gave the agency’s senior leaders low marks with a score of 38.1 out of 100, a decline of 7.1 points compared to 2017. And dropping 3.3 points to a rating of 60.7 is the Department of State, which fell from 8th place in 2017 to 14th place in 2018. Meanwhile, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fell 25.2 points for an employee engagement score of 51.7. CFPB is ranked 26th out of 27 midsize agencies and fell 15.2 points on its effective leadership score.

“This year’s rankings tell the tale of two governments,” said Max Stier, the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, in a written statement. “One part of our government has agencies with committed leaders who are fostering high and improving levels of employee engagement. The other part of our government is handicapped by a lack of leadership that has led to static or declining employee engagement.”

For details on the rankings, check out the Partnership for Public Service website.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at 

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