Much has transpired in the federal workplace since early 2020. Whether it’s the COVID-19 pandemic, the acute focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), the “Great Resignation” or “quiet quitting,” our public sector workforce seems to have navigated generations of critical transformation in just a few short years.
From the inception of the Industrial Age of the 19th and 20th centuries to the information age of the 20th century, until today, we seem to have now entered into a post-pandemic work age in which talent and employment dynamic shifts are entirely unprecedented at a rate possibly not before seen in the U.S. workforce.
The labor force has transmuted from a buyer’s market to a seller’s talent market, in which the employee is acutely aware of the value of the talent and innovation potential they bring to the job market. This new market is predicated on job satisfaction, value, holistic balance and an equitable division of resources and opportunities. In other words, the U.S. labor force is revolutionizing and seems more likely to hold the values held by our public sector employees.
That is perhaps why the federal workforce has begun outpacing American job satisfaction. According to this CivicScience report, U.S. employee job satisfaction decreased from 84% to 68% from 2020 to 2021, respectively, and this BenefitsPro.com article posits that employee satisfaction is down to 66% in 2022, dropping from 72% in 2021 and 74% in 2019. On the other hand, U.S. federal employee satisfaction is up from 70% in 2019 (See Figure 1) to 71% in 2021 (See Figure 2).
This steadily high job satisfaction is evidenced by the fact that the majority of top federal employee job satisfaction predictors have remained the same since 2019 (See Table 1). Yes, the very foundation of federal employee motivation centers around a few key indicators, despite ever-changing atmospheric pressures.
Table 1: Predictors of Federal Employee Job Satisfaction
|2021 Rank||2019 Rank|
|1||My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment||1|
|2||How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work?||3|
|3||How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job?||10
|4||My talents are used well in the workplace.||6|
|5||My workload is reasonable.||New|
|6||Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your pay?||8|
|7||My organization’s senior leaders support policies and procedures to protect employee health and safety.||7|
|8||I have trust and confidence in my supervisor.||New|
|9||Employees in my work unit achieve our goals.||New|
|10||My supervisor supports my need to balance work and other life issues.||4|
|Asked in 2019, not asked in 2021|
|I like the kind of work I do.||2|
|How satisfied are you with your opportunity to get a better job in your organization?||5|
|Employees have a feeling of personal empowerment with respect to work processes.||9|
Based on the analysis of a random sample of responses to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s 2021 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), four of the 2019 predictors of federal employee job satisfaction have moved up on our 2021 list and one predictor moved down. There were three new additions to the top 10 list, and one predictor held on to the top spot this year.
Also of note, the FEVS did not include three of 2019’s top 10 predictors in 2021. The three questions from our 2019 list not asked in 2021 pertained to:
- I like the kind of work I do.
- How satisfied are you with your opportunity to get a better job in your organization?
- Employees have a feeling of personal empowerment with respect to work processes.
1. My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment.
Personal accomplishment led our 2019 list and still tops the list in 2021. It’s no surprise that federal employees’ dedication to accomplishing the mission is unmatched. According to this article, public sector employees around the world exhibit a high level of job satisfaction and their satisfaction is, in part, is due to a high degree of personal accomplishment.
According to the study, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s 2021 FEVS responses indicated 73% were satisfied with the work they do, just slightly above our federal agency-wide average. What follows is a way for federal agencies, leaders and HR practitioners to ensure they are maintaining high levels and standards of federal employee feelings of accomplishment and job satisfaction.
2. How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work?
Involvement in decisions that affect federal employees’ work moved up one spot from 2019 from No. 3 to No. 2.
However, the second spot was inhabited in 2019 by “I like the kind of work I do,” which was not measured in 2021. Still, buy-in maintains a top spot in employee predictors of job satisfaction. This Fisher Phillips piece on preventing quiet quitting suggests that employers should clearly define employee expectations to induce buy-in, such as “reviewing policies and procedures, updating job descriptions, and outlining specific performance expectations with metrics and attainable goals.”
3. How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job?
While the extrinsic motivator, recognition, barely made our list from 2019, it’s on an upward trajectory in 2021. This predictor is moving up from the No. 10 spot in 2021, to No. 3 in 2019. For all the reasons that recognition has been critical throughout the past two-plus years, federal employees may be realizing their worth in the era of the Great Resignation.
In 2019, we suggested that this lowly-ranked predictor of satisfaction for federal employees flew in the face of conventional wisdom. But, in 2021,feeling appreciated proves to be a fundamental indicator of morale, productivity, performance, customer satisfaction and employee retention in this Harvard Business Review analysis.
4. My talents are used well in the workplace.
Up two places from 2019, well-used talents takes the fourth spot in 2021. Talent in the organization must be assessed against the agency’s strategic goals and high-performing, high potential employees should be given opportunities to reach and grow. OPM’s services for agencies offer strategies for recruitment, leadership assessments and development that include identifying, assessing and developing talent; focusing on long-term strategies to identify growth potential; developing skill sets with mission needs; and providing employees with timely, relevant opportunities to hone skills and proficiency. Agencies and organizations taking advantage of these strategies are likely to increase opportunities for taking advantage of employees’ talents and skills.
5. My workload is reasonable.
Workload is a new addition to the 2021 predictors and comes in at the middle of our top 10 list. This indicates a renewed focus on unreasonable demands and work-life balance, correlated to stress levels and work-life reflection. With the resulting sentiment of quiet quitting, a reasonable workload has been an intense focus of recent conversation.
It bears mentioning that “satisfaction with the opportunity to get a better job in the organization” came in at No. 5 in 2019, despite not being assessed in the 2021 FEVS.
6. Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your pay?
Pay is another indicator trending up from 2019’s FEVS. It bears repeating that federal employees still make approximately 75% of their private sector counterparts’ pay. And with the private sector offering to pay more and provide better benefits in some career fields, this presents a significant draw from the federal workplace for new talent.
However, OPM continues to educate agencies on available latitudes for pay incentives, including special rates, critical position pay, superior qualifications and special needs latitudes, recruitment incentives, relocation incentives, federal student loan repayment, creditable service for annual leave accrual for non-federal work experience, telework and alternative work schedules. This is an area of opportunity for agencies to leverage a competitive advantage, particularly for young talent with high concentrations of public service motivation and needs for flexibility and work-life balance.
7. My organization’s senior leaders support policies and procedures to protect employee health and safety.
This variable was not measured in 2019, but interestingly, corresponds to our 2019 results. The last few years have turned attention acutely toward the physical and mental health, safety and well-being of our colleagues and ourselves.
While federal employees were cognizant of the overall policies and practices of senior leaders in 2019, 2022 saw attention turn toward policies that support health and safety. But as we mentioned in September’s issue of HR News magazine, span of control is critical to affecting change in policy. If your sphere does not include directly changing organizational policy, supervisors and organizational leaders must focus attention on influencing the leaders and policymakers who can directly affect change.
8. I have trust and confidence in my supervisor.
Supervisor trust and confidence was measured in 2019, but is new to the 2021 Top 10 list. We’ve explored how trust in our employees can breed buy-in and work-decision satisfaction. But what about trust in our leaders?
A recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study of 9,000 workers in a dozen different countries found that nearly 90% of workers surveyed said their managers contributed to the team environment, concluding that building trust can contribute to improved workplace culture and lower turnover. As such, it’s no surprise that trust and confidence in our work team and leaders is immensely important in predicting job satisfaction.
9. Employees in my work unit achieve our goals.
Goal achievement is another new addition to the 2021 survey, and has made it to the Top 10 list of job satisfaction predictors. Of an approximately 100-question survey, the fact that two of our top 10 predictors are accomplishment-related says a great deal about the federal employee’s proclivity to action-oriented results. Federal employees want to see that their efforts are producing meaningful results because they are invested in the mission and purpose of the organization. Federal agencies must harness this high-level tendency to achieve results and not only demonstrate recognition for achieving goals, but reward high-performing work units with increased influence, growth, and pay to maintain high levels of satisfaction.
10. My supervisor supports my need to balance work and other life issues.
Support for work-life balance dropped from No. 4 in 2019 to No. 10 in 2021. Still, the responses to this question, rounding out our list of Top 10 predictors of federal employee job satisfaction, sums up workload, policies and procedures, and trust quite aptly. According to this piece, supervisors are critical as gatekeepers, ensuring work-life balance policies remain effective in eliciting job satisfaction and retaining quality talent in today’s labor market.
Supervisors, agency leaders, HR professionals and practitioners alike must continue to use the FEVS results, and this analysis, as a baseline to measure how well the agency, organization and work unit are supporting the federal employee’s most valued job satisfaction motivators.
Used with intention and purpose, this analysis will continue to serve as an aide to ensure the federal government continues to compete with the private sector in the talent market and to maintain America’s competitive and strategic advantages, post-pandemic. This list of intrinsic and extrinsic predictors serves as a basic referendum to evaluate agencies’ support for our leveraging what is most important to our greatest advantage — our people.
06 October 2022
HR News Article