Opportunities to turn a corner on federal employee engagement and satisfaction
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Opportunities to turn a corner on federal employee engagement and satisfaction

April 12, 2023 | Updated on April 14, 2023

Much like other sectors, the federal workforce faced uncertainty throughout 2022. Agencies were considering how to balance the needs of their mission and employee health in the midst of the pandemic while employees had to contend with a strained economy and changing workplace expectations.

The 2022 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings, which measure whether employees believe their organization is a good place to work and whether they are satisfied with their jobs and agencies, reflect these and a range of other issues such as employee recognition, empowerment and the capabilities of their leaders.

While agencies are ranked individually based on a Best Places to Work score, the Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group, which produce the rankings, also calculate a government-wide employee engagement and satisfaction score. In 2022, this score was 63.4 out of 100, representing a 1.1-point drop from 2021. This follows the previous year’s decline of 4.5-points, which may be establishing a troubling trend.

This two-year downward trend is a clear signal that the Biden administration and senior leaders across government need to take targeted actions that respond to changing workforce needs, empower employees and ensure agencies can successfully achieve their missions.

How agencies can improve employee engagement and satisfaction

Some agencies are already actively taking steps to address specific workforce issues.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, maintains manager-employee working groups which empower employees to provide continuous feedback on different aspects of their work.

The Department of Defense Education Activity holds in-person and virtual meetings that engage employees at both headquarters and, importantly, in the field to guide the development of programs, and implementation of policies and strategy. 

Leaders at the Department of Veterans Affairs are being transparent about employee survey results and using findings to inform and empower decision-making at all levels.

These are just a few specific examples, but in broader terms, the Partnership for Public Service has found there are a number of general approaches that can be taken by agencies to improve employee engagement and satisfaction. These include:

  • Maintaining transparent goals and increasing recognition of work critical to the achievement of those goals.
  • Creating time, space and resources for innovation.
  • Providing opportunities for feedback and improving leadership and employee communication.

Findings by category

In addition to a government-wide score, the rankings include effective leadership, performance and workplace categories—which all declined in 2022. Effective leadership by senior leaders and supervisors as well as agency and work unit performance scores dropped from 2021. Overall, the leadership category stood at 67.3 out of 100 in 2022, a decline of 0.7 points from 2021. Leadership empowerment also saw a sizable decline from 55.7 points out of 100 to 50. There was also a decline across other workplace categories, including work-life balance, teamwork and innovation.

The best organizations understand that improved employee engagement leads to better performance and outcomes.

The current administration has an opportunity to place greater emphasis on improving the employee experience and workplace culture, which will require leadership commitment.

Though a marginal increase from 2021, the lowest score of 42.9 of 100 on a Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey question (the survey is used to produce the Best Places to Work findings) centered on whether employees believe the results of the survey will be used to make their agency a better place to work—an unsettling response that represents both an opportunity and a call for action.

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