Federal employees less satisfied, engaged in jobs, finds public service partnership


When President Biden took office, one of his key pillars was the promise to get started “Empowering and Empowering the Federal Workforce.”

But in 2021, federal employees were, by and large, less satisfied and less engaged with their jobs under the pro-labor Biden administration than they were in their last year under President Donald Trump, according to a study released Wednesday.

An index of job satisfaction and engagement across the federal government fell from a 69 percent positive rating to 64.5 percent in the federal government’s most recent annual Best Places to Work assessment by the Public Service Nonprofit Partnership.

“That’s a big drop, and we’ve seen that drop in most government agencies,” with two-thirds of the agencies reporting lower or consistent scores, said Max Stier, the partnership’s president and CEO.

Stier added in an interview, “President Biden is the first new president to say on day one, ‘I appreciate public servants, we care about you, what you do is really important.’ And yet we have a government that is being crushed right now.”

Officials pointed to two possible factors for the slump: ongoing unrest in the federal workforce over the pandemic and dissatisfaction with appointed leaders — many of whom have yet to be confirmed by Congress.

The assessment based on an annual survey of federal employees called the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. During last fall’s survey period, there was a resurgence of coronavirus infections, as well as uncertainties about the return of telecommuters to their regular jobs and about a newly enacted Biden ordinance that will generally require federal employees to be vaccinated against the virus. (This order was not enforced due to court challenges.)

“After two years of tremendous work on the Covid-19 frontline, and in response to entirely new missions they’ve never had to undertake before, federal officials had a lot to do at the end of 2021,” said Loren DeJonge Schulman, the partnership’s vice president for research , assessment and modernization of government.

Officials from the Partnership and Boston Consulting Group who contributed to the study added that comparable valuations of private sector jobs also showed declines in the second half of 2021. Even so, one such study calculated an employee engagement score of 79.1 in the private sector, surpassing only 12 of the 71 federal agencies in the ranking.

“The administration is strengthened with many targeted management corrections in a stressful environment. But the fundamental fundamental management issues – how to get good talent, how to retain and develop it, how to pay it effectively, how to support innovation – these big challenges remain,” said Partnership President Stier.

Employees in the survey gave higher marks to their immediate managers, who are generally other career workers, than to senior executives, many of whom were politically appointed. At the time of the survey, many management positions were still only being filled on an interim basis; only 55 percent of nominations that required Senate confirmation were confirmed by the end of the year, Stier said.

“There’s often an intuition that when there’s a change in administration from the last administration to this one, all federal employees were immediately excited,” he said. “Often, for most federal employees, the president has less leverage than their own agency heads.”

The drop in scores came despite Biden’s efforts to refocus the federal government on its employees, including quickly rescinding the Trump administration’s disciplinary measures, which were seen as anti-working class. Biden also restored public service protections for a large class of workers, strengthened the role of unions in the workplace, expanded furlough entitlements, and made “strengthening and empowering the federal workforce” one of his top management priorities.

Because of changes to the survey since the rankings began in 2003, the drop from 2020-2021 can’t be compared directly to any other point in the survey’s history — but it’s notable compared to last year, Stier and other representatives from the partnership said .

In addition to their engagement and satisfaction scores, ratings for individual agencies include responses to survey questions on leadership, innovation, work-life balance, response to the pandemic, and various other topics.

Among cabinet departments and other major agencies, only the Veterans Affairs Department saw an increase in 2020 — from 70 to 70.2. Even NASA, the top agency in this category for the 10th straight year, fell from 86.6 to 85.1.

The Government Accountability Office led the midsize agency for the second straight year with a score of 89.8, up 0.4 points, and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation took over despite a 0.5 point decline to 85.6 the top position among small agencies.

At the bottom of these three categories were the Department of Homeland Security, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Federal Election Commission, with scores of 56.5, 60.9, and 56.8, respectively.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/07/13/federal-employee-satisfaction-survey-biden/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_politics Federal employees less satisfied, engaged in jobs, finds public service partnership

James Brien

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