I would like to congratulate all who work at USDA for the incredible improvement in our ranking in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. In 2016, for the first time, we have moved into the Top 10 Best Places to Work among large Federal agencies. When I became Secretary of Agriculture in 2009, one of my first priorities was beginning a cultural transformation of our Department, redoubling our efforts on diversity and inclusion and retooling USDA to be a modern, 21st century employer and premier service provider that better reflects all of the communities we serve. Participating in this transformation has been one of my most meaningful experiences as Secretary, and I am immensely proud that it has become part of the fabric of our Department.
Over the past eight years, USDA has worked to become a model employer by making it a priority to improve in areas such as communication, teamwork, diversity and inclusion, work-life balance, and employee training and development. Today, as a result of these efforts, I am proud to announce that the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization, has recognized USDA for the strides we have made across our Department to improve the quality of our workplace.
The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) has been a key tool for USDA’s leadership in hearing from our most valuable resource – the employees who make up the People’s Department. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) conducts the FEVS each year, soliciting input from employees across the Federal government to measure employees’ perceptions of whether their agencies have the characteristics of a successful organization, such as employee satisfaction and engagement. Each year the Partnership for Public Service uses the results of the FEVS to publish a ranking of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government.
When I became Secretary, one of the goals I established early on was to move our Department into the Top 10 in the Best Places to Work ranking. In 2012, USDA was ranked #16 out of 19 large agencies. Our ranking has steadily improved, and last year, we were #11. This has been an organization-wide effort that reflects a commitment to making real and lasting improvements in our workplace. The past few years have been particularly challenging for our workforce because of budget restrictions, pay freezes, sequestration, and even a government shutdown in 2013, making these improvements during this period even more remarkable.
I’m very pleased to report that in 2016, USDA has moved to #9 among large agencies, the highest ranking our Department has ever received. We have also been awarded “Most Improved,” which is the direct outcome of our collective efforts across USDA and is something of which we can all be very proud.
Leaders across USDA have made many changes to help make our Department a better workplace. After learning that employees were interested in having Individual Development Plans, or IDPs, we implemented a policy that requires that eligible employees receive an IDP annually. The IDP represents a commitment that leaders make to the growth and development of employees. Previously, only about 30% of employees had IDPs, but as of last year, over 86% of eligible employees had IDPs. We ensured that performance standards are linked to the mission of the organization, and that there are regular meetings between employees and supervisors about performance.
We have also recognized the value of giving employees an opportunity to interact regularly with their leaders. This promotes the type of collaboration that drives employee engagement. We asked leaders to implement Employee Advisory Councils, which are now up and running across USDA and serve as a mechanism that empowers employees to be on the front edge of changes and improvements. In addition, employees asked for more mentoring. We have launched a USDA-wide Mentoring Portal and established mentoring programs in all of our offices. To demonstrate a commitment to mentoring, we asked leaders to serve as mentors to help us build the leadership pipeline. Last year, 51% of our senior executives were serving as mentors.
Employees let us know that work-life balance is important to them. We have responded by setting a goal and monitoring our efforts to improve employee participation rates in telework and flexible work schedules. We trained our leaders to understand the value of telework and flexible schedules, and helped them understand how to manage in this environment so that the programs are used to promote high performance. Last year alone, participation in telework increased by 6%, with 41% of eligible employees regularly teleworking. Additionally, 86% of our eligible employees are on a flexible work schedule. We know from employee feedback that by having leaders who support work-life balance, we are attracting and retaining employees who value this program.
Each of our employees has played and continues to play a significant role in reshaping our work environment for the better. The input and leadership of our employees has guided our journey to make USDA an even better place for employees to thrive. The changes implemented as a result of the feedback received through the FEVS will last well into the future and continue to make a positive impact throughout our workforce. We take pride in knowing our efforts will continue to make a profound difference for our customers, stakeholders, and colleagues.
I would like to recognize all of our employees for their commitment to USDA’s mission and to helping USDA live up to our potential as an organization. I am constantly impressed with our public servants and their unwavering dedication to providing critical services to the American public. Together, we have improved organizational performance and delivered record levels of service, and for that, I am grateful. It has been my pleasure to serve alongside our hardworking employees and help build a better workplace for all.