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Leadership, trust, and workplace culture in government 

A troubling triangle

We expect government leaders to set and steer the course of their agencies: the goals, the strategies, the budgets. But what about organizational culture? Research from Eagle Hill Consulting found that when it comes to driving workplace culture in government, many agency leaders fall short. In fact, nearly 2 out of 5 (37%) government employees say their leadership has a negative impact on agency culture.

Culture problems spread to every corner of organizations, likely more than agency leaders realize. Eagle Hill’s survey shows that government employees believe culture impacts their productivity/efficiency (69%); commitment to achieve organizational goals (65%); ability to best serve customers (60%); and innovation and creativity (57%). Perhaps most striking, 70% say workplace culture affects their very will to do their best work. 

Government employees say culture has a strong impact on their job performance

Q: Does the culture at your workplace impact your: 


Will to do your best work


Productivity & efficiency


Commitment to achieve organizational goals


Ability to best serve customers


Innovation & creativity

Source: Eagle Hill Consulting Government Workplace Culture Survey 2023

In practical terms, workplace culture in government exerts extraordinary influence on an agency’s ability to meet its mission. However, less than 1 in 5 government employees (19%) say their agency considers workplace culture when making important business decisions. 

Culture in the current context

If culture isn’t top of mind for agency leaders right now, it should be. The 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) showed overall satisfaction in the federal workforce is on a downward trend since 2020 and is at its lowest point since 2018. 

Declining employee satisfaction may indicate government agencies have a workplace culture problem. Our latest government employee burnout research reveals nearly half (47%) of government employees report feeling burnt out. Employees cite workload, staff shortages, and a lack of communication and support as the top reasons why they’re feeling drained. Add in the recent return to office mandates and threat of reduced flexibility, and the need for improved workplace cultures feels especially urgent. 

Where is leadership on culture and trust?

Our survey revealed a three-sided relationship between leadership action, mutual trust across organizational levels, and healthy workplace cultures. Here’s what we learned:

Government employees hold executive leaders accountable for culture
Although individuals experience culture’s effects, culture is a macro issue. Our survey finds that employees experience culture at the organizational level (63%) significantly more than at the team level (37%). Moreover, they see agency leadership as crucial to culture-setting, with 69% of respondents saying executive leadership is responsible for workplace culture in government.

Government employees say agency leaders are responsible for culture


of government employees say executive leadership is responsible for culture

Source: Eagle Hill Consulting Government Workplace Culture Survey 2023

Leadership (in)action negatively affects organizational culture and employees’ trust 
Government employees also see the gaps in what they believe their leaders should be doing to build a positive workplace culture. According to the FEVS, less than half (43%) of government employees believe the results of that survey will be used to make their agency a better place to work. The report noted this as one of the lowest positive responses in the survey. 

Eagle Hill’s research found that overall, 37% of government respondents say leadership is negatively impacting their organizational culture. When it comes to employees who plan to leave their current role, this number jumps to 66%. In other words, large swaths of government employees think agency leadership not only neglects culture—but actually damages it. 

Not surprisingly, amid these negative perceptions, our survey found government employees are much more likely to trust their boss and colleagues over agency leadership. Only 8% would rank leaders on the top of the list in terms of who they trust (as opposed to 51% for colleagues and 41% for their boss).

Government employees have little trust in agency leadership

In my workplace, I trust:

Source: Eagle Hill Consulting Government Workplace Culture Survey 2023

At the same time, employees perceive that their cultures do not fully support them
According to Eagle Hill research, during the past year 43% of government employees experienced a high stress or burnout culture. Twenty-seven percent reported poor collaboration and 24% reported unhealthy working relationships. One in five (20%) believed their organization had a lack of commitment to employee wellbeing in general.

But there is also opportunity here. Employees have strong ideas for how to improve workplace culture in government. When asked what actions they would like to see their organization take to create a healthy workplace culture, government employees said investing in initiatives to improve employee well-being (57%); holding people accountable for bad behavior (54%); and focusing on leadership development efforts to create better role models (49%). 

Actions government employees want to improve agency culture

Q: What actions would you like to see your organization take to create a healthy workplace culture going forward?


say invest in initiatives to improve employee well-being 


say hold people accountable for bad behavior 


say focus on leadership development efforts to create better role models 

Source: Eagle Hill Consulting Government Workplace Culture Survey 2023

In short, to build a better workplace culture, government employees want three things from their leaders: 

  1. Create conditions in which everyone can perform their best. 
  2. Hold others accountable for good behavior.
  3. Model good behavior.

The silver lining for agency leaders today is that employees returning to the office is an ideal catalyst for doubling down on culture. The coming transition can and should become a time to make cultures even better than they were before. 

Developing your culture champions

Wondering what you can do to support agency leaders in improving workplace culture? Read our guide on how to position government leaders as culture champions to get started.


These findings are from the 2023 Eagle Hill Consulting Culture Survey conducted by Ipsos from July 25-28, 2023. The survey included 1,315 respondents from a random sample of employees across the U.S., including 515 government employees.