Job satisfaction of US federal officials falls, annual employee survey finds

By on 06/12/2022 | Updated on 06/12/2022
This year's employee survey found that 62% of feds are satisfied overall, down seven points on 2020. Photo by Tumisua via Pixabay

US federal employees are significantly less satisfied in their jobs this year than in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – and are particularly dissatisfied with pay, a major survey has found.

The 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) has found that 62% of feds were satisfied in their work, down seven points since late 2020. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) – which oversees the survey – put the drop down to pay lagging behind inflation and feds’ reluctance to return to the office after more than two years of remote working prompted by the pandemic.

However, the employee engagement score in this year’s index – which considers feds’ perceptions of leadership, their relationship with their supervisors and their feelings of motivation and competency in their roles – remained stable at 71%, the same score as last year and one point down on 2020.

As for performance confidence, 84% of respondents agreed that their organisation has an “outstanding competitive future, based on innovative, high-quality products and services that are highly regarded by the marketplace”. This percentage matches the 2021 result, but is three points down on 2020.

The survey, now in its 20th year, assesses the experience of federal employees and their perceptions of the policies, practices and procedures of their agencies and leaders. The aim is to measure the success of improvement programmes, identify weak areas and inform organisational change and development initiatives. This year’s survey had more than 550,000 respondents.

Read more: US federal officials ‘less satisfied at work due to return to the office’ – Global Government Forum

Pay satisfaction down 11 points

The overall satisfaction score is the average across four categories: job satisfaction (66% in this year’s survey); whether respondents would recommend their organisation as a good place to work (65%); organisational satisfaction (60%); and pay satisfaction (which received the lowest score, at 56%).  

Scores in the first three categories have each dropped by six points on 2020, while pay is down 11 points over the same period – one of the largest drops of the 2022 survey.

Looking back at survey results over the last five years, overall satisfaction scores, as well as those in the four individual categories, either improved or stayed the same year-on-year between 2018 and 2020, but then declined in 2021 and again (but to a lesser extent) in 2022.

The OPM put the satisfaction score decrease down primarily to pay. “Results could reflect changes in the context when living costs rose without a corresponding increase in pay for most employees,” it said.

Cost of living increases in the US, based upon one measure of inflation, will be 8.7% in 2023, while the planned pay raise for federal employees next year is set to be 4.6% on average. The 4.6% average increase – proposed by president Joe Biden in February – is the largest in 20 years.

Read more: Biden to propose the highest pay rise for US feds in 20 years, at 4.6%

The OPM also said that results should be interpreted in the context of circumstances and events leading up to and during the administration of the survey – which this year took place between 31 May and 15 July.

“The OPM FEVS’ results should always be interpreted in the context of what happened during the administration period,” the agency wrote. “Events such as sequestration [a process of automatic spending cuts] and the COVID-19 pandemic affected past survey results and interpretations. This year, the timing of the 2022 survey coincided with many employees increasing their in-person work at their agency worksites, while also navigating transitions to hybrid workplaces and work arrangements. The survey results should be interpreted within this context of change and challenge.”

OPM director Kiran Ahuja was more positive about the employee engagement score. She said it “stayed steady at 71%, the same mark as 2021, which were two of the highest scores in the past decade. These are strong results considering the drop in employee engagement in other sectors, including Gallup’s employee engagement survey which dropped for the first time in a decade in 2021, and dropped again in 2022 for a four percentage point total decline”.

She also highlighted that 87% of respondents felt that their agency met the needs of their customers, that 80% felt it had adapted to changing priorities, and that 80% of employees surveyed were positive about their supervisors.

Agency winners and losers

Looking at the satisfaction results by department, of those that have more than 1,000 employees, satisfaction among employees was highest at the National Science Foundation (81%), followed by the General Service Administration (78%); the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (75%); the Environmental Protection Agency (74%); the Small Business Administration (73%); the Department of Energy (72%); and the Department of Health and Human Services (71%).

Twenty other agencies with more 1,000 employees performed better in terms of employee satisfaction than the governmentwide average.

As for the worst performing departments with a minimum of 1,000 employees, satisfaction scores were lowest at the Social Security Administration (53%); the Department of Homeland Security (54%); and the Department of Justice (54%). Five other agencies in the same size bracket scored lower than the governmentwide average.

The employee engagement score was highest at the General Services Administration (83%); the Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission (83%); the National Science Foundation (82%); the Small Business Administration (79); the Environmental Protection Agency (78%); the Department of Health and Human Services (78%); the Department of Energy (78%); and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (78%).

Overall, the scores of seventeen other agencies with a workforce of 1,000 personnel or more were higher than the governmentwide average.

The 1,000+ employee agencies whose scores were lowest include the Department of Justice (63%); the Department of Homeland Security (64%); and the Social Security Administration (66%).

Overall, Ahuja said the “results showcase that the federal government wins on mission – the spirit of public service remains important to people and the work they do”.

She added: “I encourage leaders and supervisors at all levels of government to review these critical survey insights and then build and implement an action plan to improve the employee experience in their agencies”.

For the first time this year, the FEVS incorporated new measures including resilience, innovation, customer responsiveness and a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Index (DEIA) – the latter in response to Biden’s June 2021 executive order on improving DEIA across the federal workforce as part of his President’s Management Agenda. The full FEVS survey report can be found here.

Read more: US agencies tasked with annual diversity reporting in new Biden order

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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