The best places to work

Nov 16, 2011

Janelle Callahan discusses the best places to work and why based on the Partnership for Public Service's 2011 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, which will be released Wednesday.

Hi everyone, thank you for joining. I'm here to answer your questions about this year's Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings just released today. My organization, the Partnership for Public Service, publishes these rankings to provide a roadmap for building a more engaged and effective federal workforce.

DOJ Antitrust has historically ranked highly in these surveys. What happened this year?

Yes, DOJ Antitrust dropped in the rankings from 22 in 2010 to 178 this year. Overall satisfaction decreased by 20.7 percent. We don't know specifics, but what we do know from our analysis is that leadership is the #1 driver of overall satisfaction. That is, employees' views of leadership are strongly linked to overall satisfaction. Antitrust's scores on leaders dropped by 29.5 percent. For more information, I'd suggest reading a recent Post story by Ed O'Keefe.

I've been lucky -- I've worked in two completely different divisions at the Justice Department, and both have been equally fulfilling. If you believe in the mission of the office, work won't be a drag (other than dealing with management, of course!).

Glad to hear you enjoy your work! That's clearly the case for many federal employees. Scores on our skills/mission match category tend to be very high. In fact, skills/mission match is the second most important driver of the overall satisfaction score.

Being a fed employed in a large Federal department, I find that when the message goes off course, the unhappiness in the workplace increases. Our Office of Administration continues to be, by far, the least enjoyable part of our department. Building services are bleak, and implemented practices as times, seem wasteful. Employees are the customers, but you'd never know it. How can these circumstances be improved, short of gutting and emploding the division,?

There are lots of things agencies can do to improve the work environment. Some of the high ranked agencies did things like host town halls and employee focus groups to get at the root causes of frustrations. Check out the Post's Fed Coach column for more examples of what agencies are doing to improve employee satisfaction.

I'm a little surprised Smithsonian ranks so highly since the first thing that seems to get the axe is the arts. You'd think that type of budget insecurity would be problematic.

What we find is that it all goes back to leadership. If leaders are communicating the challenges effectively, employees will understand. Smithsonian is also  an agency where employees are very passionate about the mission and the work they do.

Agencies such as FDIC operate with a different system of salaries and perks, more money by the agency into the THRIFT, for example, which would make them better places to work than a standard Cabinet agency such as Education. I think pay and benefits have to be deducted to establish some parity of views about where to work.

Through our analysis, we found that pay is important, but not nearly as important as effective leadership and skills/mission match. It's true that some agencies like FDIC have unique circumstances and rank high. SEC, on the other hand, is near the bottom of the rankings.

I don't know if you read the article in this month's Washingtonian but they listed the top 50 places to work in DC and only 2 were Feds, State and NRC. Right?

Yes, I did. I think it's great they include some federal agencies in their rankings. The more we can get the word out about about the great job opportunities in the federal government, the better.

"Overall satisfaction decreased by 20.7 percent. We don't know specifics, but ... How could you not know specifics? Didn't you put together the survey?

No, the Best Places rankings are based on OPM's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. We analyze the data which provides a red flag for agencies that might be in trouble. To get the complete picture, one needs dig deeper and talk with employees and leaders to find out what's going on.

I think that if the NRC's Chairman were a little more self-aware he might realize that much of the unhappiness is staring back at him in the mirror.

Our analysis tells us NRC has dropped, but they're still ranked 2. The leadership scores are also near the top.

What's the rationale for determining that large agencies are those organizations with more than 2,000 full-time, permanent employees? I would think that large agencies would defined with a larger starting number as opposed to anything greater than 2,000?

When we started the rankings in 2003, we had all agencies in one list. We decided to divide the rankings by workforce size in 2005. 2,000 employees was a good cutoff because it gave us about equal numbers in the large and small categories.

This is a really interesting study. What perspective can you offer on working at the US Department of Education? How do you define "best" in terms of work environment?

Thanks! We rank agencies based on what employees say. The Best Places to Work Index measures employee satisfaction and commitment. 

The Department of Education has been near the bottom of the rankings for a while now, but they are paying attention and trying to improve. ED improved by 9.1 percent on the strategic management category -- it's a good sign that employees think the skill level is improving and that they are recruiting the right people.

Amidst over 85% of the agencies showing declines in their ratings, to what do you attribute the large gains (8,5%,5.3%, and 3.0%) in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Personnel Management and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ?

When we looked at the data, we had the very same question! We reached out to FDIC and OPM to find out and it is important to note that their gains did not happen by accident. Both agencies have worked very hard to improve their work environments. Check out what they did to improve.

Does the study take overall employee happiness into account? Are fed workers in general feeling more down due to the constant bashing they receive from the right, the cuts to budget and pay freeze?

We don't look at happiness, our overall satisfaction score is based on three different questions:
• I recommend my organization as a good place to work.
• Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your job?
• Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization?


We understand that it's been a tough year for federal workers. The government-wide index score drop of 1.5 percent reinforced that -- although some of us were expecting an even bigger drop considering the tough climate for feds.

Thank you all for your great questions today! If your agency is low ranked or you think there is room for improvement, please ask questions of your leadership. The rankings prove that when agency leadership pays attention to problems and is committed to improvement, it can happen. Thanks again!

Here's the website one more time: www.bestplacestowork.org

In This Chat
Janelle Callahan
Janelle Callahan is program manager for the Partnership for Public Service's Best Places to Work in the Federal Government program. An important tool for Congress, the Obama administration and agency leaders, the Best Places rankings measure federal employee job satisfaction and commitment, gauge federal agency progress and identify signs of trouble at agencies. The rankings are based on responses from more than 276,000 federal workers, and include 308 federal agencies and subcomponents - representing 97 percent of the 2.1 million person federal workforce. Scores and rankings are revealed for all agencies and subcomponents, from first to worst. In addition, agencies are ranked by 10 workplace categories, including effective leadership, pay, teamwork, training and development, and work/life balance.
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