Best Places to Work rankings show repeat winners and all-time lows

Wednesday - 12/18/2013, 3:00am EST

Max Stier, president and CEO, Partnership for Public Service

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By Ellen Kortesoja
Federal News Radio

The 2013 Best Places to Work rankings of federal workplace satisfaction paint a dismal picture of agency leadership, management and employee opportunities.

The study, which is funded by the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte, revealed that 2013 hasn't been a great year for agencies.

This year's governmentwide ranking was an all-time low since the Best Places to Work rankings began in 2003.

Private sector workplaces don't share that blight. Their satisfaction scores rose marginally, while their federal counterparts plummeted for the third year in a row to a 57.8 out of 100 satisfaction rating. That score falls from 2012's 60.8.

Federal employees ranked their satisfaction at work by responding to statements like: "I recommend my organization as a good place to work."

The rankings demonstrated what agencies were doing the best and worst amid a record low for the government at-large. The findings broke up agencies into size categories.

Repeat leaders in employee satisfaction were National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Surface Transportation Board.

NASA topped the large agency division with a 74 overall satisfaction score. The FDIC was number one among mid-size agencies (1,000 to 14,999 employees) with 82.3. The Surface Transportation Board scored the highest of small agencies. It was also the agency with the highest satisfaction of all 371 participating agencies with a score of 84.7.

All three scored the highest in their respective categories for the second year running.

Satisfaction scores were down in about 75 percent of all agencies, but NASA defied this trend by improving its score by 1.2 percent from 2012. The only other large agency to do so was the Veterans Affairs Department with a 0.6 percent increase.

Evidence of NASA's commitment to teamwork and collaboration can be seen in its IT Labs program. The program encouraged all employees to engage and sponsor new ideas, an innovation model similar to a Silicon Valley startup.

Low performers included the Environmental Protection Agency with the greatest drop in satisfaction of a large agency, falling 8.3 points. Housing and Urban Development lost 10.8 points, the most for a mid-size agency. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board saw the greatest decrease, with a ranking 33.4 points lower than its 2012 score.

Scoring only 24.8 out of 100, the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration had the lowest satisfaction ranking of all 371 agencies.

Indications from the rankings

"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, president and CEO of The Partnership for Public Service.

Considering the majority of the data was based on the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint (FEV) survey that took place months before the 16-day government shutdown in October, the results were even more troubling.

The rankings provide the administration and Congress with insights about how an organization functions. Employee dissatisfaction can help stakeholders make adjustments to turn those concerns around and improve an agency's functionality.

For the second year in a row, the governmentwide data showed a decline in each of the 10 workplace categories. The categories are: effective leadership, employee skills-mission match, pay, strategic management, teamwork, training and development, work-life balance, support for diversity, performance-based awards/advancement and employee support programs.

The three top priorities for feds this year were leadership, skills-mission match and pay. Pay issues haven't been a key driver of data since 2010, but dropped almost five points this year. The FEV showed pay and benefits as a main source of employee frustration across the board.

Senior leaders received failing grades with a governmentwide rating of 45.4 points in the rankings. The data identified effective leadership as the most important factor in assessing employee satisfaction for the eighth year in a row.

The Homeland Security Department, for example, sustained blows to morale and mission effectiveness because of constant changeover in senior leadership. Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) pointed to DHS as an example of prevalent leadership vacancies across agencies.