A just-released survey of more than 266,300 federal employees reveals a remarkably positive workforce that, despite the prospects of shutdowns, pay freezes and benefit reductions, still views the federal government and the agencies employees work for as a good place to work.

A large majority of federal employees (85 percent) like the work they do. And as recurring evidence of what often separates public sector work from the private sector, 92 percent believe the work they do is important. Still, as the threat of budget cutbacks and uncertainty loom over federal employees working all over the globe, a substantial portion–nearly seven out of every 10 federal employees– say they recommend their organization as a good place to work.

Federal workers also voice positive views about agency leaders and their co-workers. More than half (56 percent) of employees have a high level of respect for their senior leaders, up a percentage point from a similar survey taken a year ago. And three out of four employees feel coworkers cooperate to get the job done.

But persistent dissatisfaction remains about the disconnect federal employees see between pay raises (or the lack of pay raises) and performance evaluations. Many, but certainly not all, voice frustration that promotions tend not to be based on merit but on other circumstances. Employees also take issue with the fact that poor performers appear not to be dealt with.

Only about half of federal workers agree they have personal empowerment with respect to work processes; and less than half believe their training needs are assessed.

Those and a host of other findings were made available in the 2011 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, released today by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The study captures a wide-ranging portrait of how federal employees view the state of leadership, supervision and performance at more than 80 federal agencies. The survey, which was fielded this past April and May, also examines employees’ view of work-life programs, including telework.

“This year, the conventional wisdom was that we would see a significant drop in federal employee satisfaction and engagement due to the current pay freeze, the threat of a government shutdown, and the increase in negative public attitudes toward government and – by extension – toward government employees, and declining agency budgets,” said John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service.

“A major surprise in the results, therefore, is that overall federal employee job satisfaction did not take a major hit,” he said. “High employee satisfaction and engagement is important because it is highly correlated with organizational effectiveness and employee productivity.”

The survey, which was conducted this past April and May, also assessed how well agencies manage their human capital, using indices that gauge the quality of leadership and knowledge management within agencies; how results-oriented agencies are; how well they manage their talent; and overall job satisfaction.

The study found the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Federal Trade Commission, and NASA were the top performing agencies across all four measures. It also showed that the measures vary significantly from agency to agency, and that “even the highest performing agencies have room to progress.”

Among the survey’s key overall findings, federal employees said they:

  • Feel their work is important: 92%
  • Like the work they do: 85%
  • Believe they are held accountable for achieving results: 84%
  • Rate the quality of their unit’s work as high: 82%
  • Feel their coworkers cooperate to get the job done: 75%
  • Feel a sense of accomplishment: 74 %
  • Say they have enough information to do their jobs well: 73%
  • Feel they have opportunities to improve their skills: 65%
  • Are less inclined to agree they have personal empowerment with respect to work process: 48%

Regarding federal employees’ views about leadership:

  • About two-thirds believe their leaders work well with employees of different backgrounds, communicate goals and priorities, review and evaluate work progress.
  • Over 50% have a high level of respect for senior leaders and believe they are doing a good job.
  • About half report being satisfied with the information they receive from management.
  • Only about 45% felt leaders generated high levels of motivation and commitment to the workforce– but that was up from 40% from a comparable 2008 survey.
  • Employees perception of leadership standards of honesty and integrity improved from 51% in 2008 to 57% in 2011.

While the survey found that employees are “generally very positive towards their personal experience with their supervisor’s use of the performance appraisal system,” a significant proportion of employees still harbor unfavorable views about the inequities they experience around them. Employees felt:

  • Pay raises do not depend on performance: 47%
  • Poor performers are not dealt with: 41%
  • Promotions are not based on merit: 45%
  • Differences in performance are not recognized: 34%
  • Awards are not dependent on job performance: 31%

“Performance management continues to persist as a problem area across government,” said OPM Director John Berry. “Agencies must remain focused on performance management, especially in dealing with poor performers and providing their employees with sufficient resources to get their job done,” he said.

The survey also explored the impact work/life programs are having on federal employees. The study found 54% of employees participate in at least one of the programs, such as alternative work schedules, health and wellness programs, child and elder care, and employee assistance. Among those participating, more three out four employees rated their experience with the programs positively.

A report of the study is available online at www.fedview.opm.gov.