Young employees are more likely to see link between pay and performance

Young federal employees are more likely than their older co-workers to believe that pay, promotions and performance are based on merit, but less likely to feel that their work matters, according to data from the 2008 Federal Human Capital Survey.

Less than half of the 210,000 federal employees who responded to the governmentwide survey said they thought that pay, promotions and awards depended on job performance, prompting Nancy Kichak, the Office of Personnel Management's associate director for strategic human resource policy, to note that "performance is still one of the issues that is identified as an area that needs work."

But federal employees age 25 or younger were most likely to say that performance and compensation were linked, according to survey results released on Jan. 8. About 39 percent of respondents in that age group said promotions in their work unit were based on merit. That was higher than the percentage for any other age group and exceeded the governmentwide average of 35 percent by 4 percentage points.

The youngest employees also were most likely to say pay raises depended on job performance. Thirty-five percent of the youngest employees said they agreed or strongly agreed with that statement, almost 10 percent higher than the average across all age groups. Nearly 46 percent of the youngest employees said awards in their unit were linked to job performance, exceeding the overall average of 41 percent by 5 percentage points.

But on questions about job satisfaction, the youngest federal employees gave lower ratings than their older colleagues. Seventy-four percent said they liked their work, but the average across age groups was about 84 percent. Sixty-eight percent of employees age 25 and younger said their work gave them a sense of accomplishment, while overall, 73 percent said they shared such a sense. And only 58 percent of workers 25 or younger said they felt encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things, compared to a governmentwide average of 61 percent.

Some of the gap in satisfaction could be explained by different ideas about how workers' ideas should be treated. Sean Clayton, a generational researcher at the National Nuclear Security Administration, said during an interview last year that older and younger workers have different perspectives on advancement.

"We're not in an experience climate anymore, we're in a competency climate," he said. "We have younger generations coming in saying you may have 20, 30 years of experience, but were you doing it correctly?"

As a result, younger workers might want to advance more quickly or have more input at work than they do presently.

But there are some encouraging signs. The youngest federal employees were most likely to say they were given real opportunities to improve their skills on the job, with 71 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing with that statement compared to 64 percent across all age groups. The young employees also were the most likely to say discussions with their supervisors about their performance were helpful; 65 percent agreed with that statement in contrast to 56 percent governmentwide.

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