Federal Employee Engagement Sees Slight Uptick

Thursday, September 22, 2016

For the second year, the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey shows a marginal increase.  For starters, the Office of Personnel Management, reported that its “global satisfaction index, which measures employees’ happiness with pay, their individual jobs, and the overall organization, increased 1 point—from 60 in 2015 to 61 this year. In addition, 65 percent of the federal employees surveyed said they are engaged in their workplace. That’s an increase government-wide of one percentage point over 2015, and is two percentage points higher than in 2014. 

“This is a positive trend that we can build on,” said OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert in a blog post releasing the results. “These results illustrate that employees across federal agencies are more engaged in their workplaces and more satisfied with their jobs than they were a year ago. The results also show that what federal employees tell us about their workplaces and their leaders matter.” 

Some individual agencies saw even larger increases. Here are the five large agencies (those with more than 800 employees) that saw the biggest improvement in satisfaction:

  1. Securities and Exchange Commission:9 percent increase
  2. Energy Department:5 percent increase
  3. Environmental Protection Agency:5 percent increase
  4. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation:4 percent increase
  5. National Archives and Records Administration:4 percent increase 

Not surprisingly, the agencies already ranked high saw improvements in engagement. The Federal Trade Commission, which has the top spot, increased from 78 percent to 82 percent. This uptick ousted NASA, which had been ranked number 1 in 2015. But even NASA saw a boost in its overall engagement score, which rose 2 percent this year.   
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden attributes the agency’s success to mid-level managers. He explains that NASA managers use the FEVS data as a focal point for guidance. For example, based on data from the 2015, the agency focused this year on second-level performance reviews to support and encourage fairness in ratings and it created a Leader’s Handbook to guide supervisors and employees and foster organizational health. 


“The best part of serving as NASA Administrator continues to be witnessing how open and honest opinions and ideas have changed NASA for the better.  Our entire NASA senior leadership team sincerely cares about our workforce’s opinions and is ready to take action,” says Bolden. 

Meanwhile, the five small agencies (those with fewer than 800 employees) with the biggest increases in satisfaction are:

  1. African Development Foundation:44 percent increase
  2. National Endowment of the Arts:14 percent increase
  3. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission:13 percent increase
  4. Postal Regulatory Commission:13 percent increase
  5. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board:12 percent increase 

In a call with reporters, Cobert said that uptick in engagement and satisfaction can be attributed to more agencies implementing best practices like soliciting greater input from employees, holding town halls, more explicit recognition of “a job well done,” and training. For instance, the SEC said it has invested in the development of its employees, boosted communication to employees at all levels, and launched a new forum to enable the agency to reach non-adversarial solutions with the National Treasury Employees Union. 
FEVS is a confidential survey that measures engagement by asking employees a range of questions to better understand several aspects of working for the federal government. For example:

  • Do managers communicate the goals and priorities of their organization?
  • Do supervisors support employee development?
  • Does work give employees a feeling of personal accomplishment?  

Such feedback is essential for agencies to find both what engagement efforts are working and pinpoint areas that need improvement. 
The 2016 survey included results from employees from April through June of 2016. More than 407,000 employees from 80 agencies participated, with a response rate of 45.8 percent. The results are available at, the comprehensive, interactive visualization dashboard that helps government leaders make data-driven decisions and design initiatives to improve overall engagement and employee satisfaction at federal agencies.

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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