Pay raises aren’t enough to lure would-be senior executives

Worries that the financial rewards of taking senior executive positions might not make up for the increased workload could be discouraging federal employees, especially younger ones, from seeking promotions, according to a new survey.

Participants in the survey, conducted by the Senior Executives Association and Avue Technologies Corp. in 2009, said the concern that joining the SES would have a negative effect on their family and work-life balance was the most significant deterrent to applying for executive-level positions. Nearly 12,000 employees in General Schedule 14 and 15 positions responded to the questionnaire.

"The career executive corps is critical to high-performing government and key to implementing any administration's political and management agenda," SEA President Carol A. Bonosaro said. "We must continue to attract the best and the brightest to these positions, but this report demonstrates that the detractors to serving are substantial and require action by Congress and the [Obama] administration."

Work-life balance was more of a factor for younger cohorts of employees than older ones, the survey found. While 41 percent of respondents age 50 and older who expressed interest in SES positions said work-life balance concerns were a major consideration, half of respondents under 40 who were interested in joining the SES felt this way.

Moreover, respondents did not necessarily view the pay raise accompanying a promotion to the SES as adequate compensation for the extra work. This was especially true for those whose salaries as GS-14s and GS-15s already approached the SES pay scale. While just 12.6 percent of respondents who made less than $115,000 annually said the financial rewards of an SES job were too small to create an incentive for additional responsibility, that percentage grew to 16.7 percent for respondents earning $115,000 to $129,999, 21.6 percent for workers making $130,000 to $144,999, and 32.1 percent for respondents making $145,000 or more.

Seventeen chief human capital officers who filled out questionnaires as part of the study seemed to view the incentives differently than employees faced with the possibility of applying for promotions. CHCOs said eligibility for Presidential Rank Awards and other significant performance bonuses was an important factor in recruiting applicants to the SES. In contrast, the GS-14s and 15s said the awards were the least important motivator for them, and the chance to contribute more meaningfully and creatively to their agency's mission and the prestige of the executive corps were the biggest draws.

Seven of the 17 CHCOs who filled out questionnaires, however, did note pay issues, saying the fact that some highly paid General Schedule employees could make as much as senior executives and senior professionals discouraged promising candidates from trying to join the senior ranks.

Another factor that could prompt people to stay put might simply be that they are happy in their current jobs, the survey found. More than 84 percent of the respondents who indicated they might be interested in becoming senior executives said they were satisfied where they were.

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