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Feds satisfied with pay, but not with management

Most federal employees are satisfied with their salaries, but they hold their leaders in low esteem, a new survey of 100,000 government workers has found.

Most federal employees are satisfied with their salaries, but they hold their leaders in low esteem, a new survey of 100,000 government workers has found.

The survey results, issued Tuesday by the Office of Personnel Management, found that 56.2 percent of federal workers thought their pay was very good or good, and that 63.8 percent were satisfied with their pay. Civil servants in the 24 major agencies surveyed also reported pride in their work, with large majorities reporting that the work they do is important, is of high quality and gives them a sense of personal accomplishment.

However, federal workers gave their bosses low marks. Only a third of survey respondents agreed that their organizations' leaders motivate and gain the commitment of the workforce, and less than half held their organizations' leaders in high esteem. Fewer than half of respondents gave their bosses positive scores on being receptive to change, maintaining high standards of honesty and integrity, resolving workplace disputes fairly or avoiding arbitrary actions and favoritism.

"More attention needs to be paid to developing and supporting effective leaders," said OPM Director Kay Coles James.

James said the survey was the largest ever conducted of the federal workforce. OPM sent a 100-question survey to 200,000 federal workers between May and August 2002. About 100,000 employees responded, representing 189 units in 24 of the largest federal agencies. The 2002 Federal Human Capital Survey, as OPM called it, asked employees about workforce management, leadership, performance management, employee development and the work environment.

The high satisfaction with pay levels surprised many observers, because low federal salaries in comparison with private sector salaries are often cited as a concern for the government workforce. "It is useful to recognize that job satisfaction comes from more than just pay," said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service. Though 56.2 percent of workers said their pay was very good or good, 43.8 percent said it was fair, poor, or very poor. "It would be a mistake to ignore pay," Stier said.

Problems with bosses and concerns with pay likely contribute to another finding in the survey: 34.6 percent of respondents said they are considering leaving their organization. Only 16 percent plan to retire within the next three years, suggesting that many are considering quitting to take jobs in other federal agencies or outside government. Doris Hausser, OPM's senior policy adviser, said more people were considering leaving agencies that scored poorly overall on the survey than from agencies that scored well. "Perceptions matter," James said.

In general, federal executives and managers painted a rosier picture of their workplaces and their personal job satisfaction than did rank-and-file workers. Workplace surveys generally find that the higher in the hierarchy employees are, the better they feel about their employers.

However, executives and managers were more likely than front-line workers to say that they did not have sufficient resources to do their jobs and to say that their workloads were unreasonable. Executives were also less satisfied than lower-ranked employees with their pay. Still, 81.5 percent of executives reported overall job satisfaction, compared with 74.8 percent of supervisors and 66.8 percent of employees.

"It's certainly has been my impression that executives are really spread thin," said Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association. She said the high satisfaction levels among executives show that they are committed to public service. "They care about what they do. They like what they do. They're committed to what they do. They know they're doing something important."

Many of the survey results are identical or similar to results of both private sector and government workplace surveys over the last decade. In fact, private sector survey results included in OPM's release show nearly identical numbers in how employees rate their co-workers' teamwork, their chance to improve their skills, their sense of personal accomplishment on the job, their benefits programs, their job satisfaction and their promotion potential. "People in government aren't that different from people in private industry," Bonosaro said.

Past surveys of the federal workforce have come to similar conclusions as the new survey, including the fact that employees don't feel as if they get enough recognition for the work they do, that managers don't deal with poor performers, and that employees want more training.

Because of the large response rate, OPM official Doris Hausser said the margin of error for the governmentwide results is plus or minus 1 percent. The results for each agency carry a margin of error of roughly plus or minus 5 percent. The same is true of the 189 units within the agencies, but OPM officials decided not to publicly release survey results for individual units. Agencies may not have agreed to help with the survey if OPM had planned to release results to that level, Hausser said.

As in a 2000 survey conducted by the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, NASA employees reported the highest job satisfaction in government, with 76.4 percent very satisfied or satisfied with their jobs. Of the 24 agencies surveyed, the least satisfied workers were at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (61.4 percent).

2002 Federal Employee Satisfaction, By Agency

Agency Satisfied Neither Dissatisfied
Agency for International Development 65.8 18.9 15.3
Agriculture 69.1 18.3 12.6
Commerce 68.3 17.8 14.0
Defense 67.1 17.5 15.4
Education 63.9 19.3 16.8
Energy 64.6 18.9 16.5
Environmental Protection Agency 69.6 16.7 13.7
Federal Emergency Management Agency 61.4 17.9 20.7
General Services Administration 71.0 15.4 13.6
Health and Human Services 68.2 16.9 14.8
Housing & Urban Development 65.6 18.5 15.8
Interior 68.9 16.6 14.5
Justice 65.2 17.5 17.3
Labor 67.3 17.3 15.4
NASA 76.4 13.7 9.9
National Science Foundation 68.0 16.8 15.2
Office of Management and Budget 71.2 17.9 10.9
Office of Personnel Management 70.1 16.0 13.9
Small Business Administration 64.8 19.6 15.6
Social Security Administration 68.4 16.0 15.6
State 66.0 16.7 17.4
Transportation 69.9 16.0 14.2
Treasury 67.6 16.9 15.6
Veterans Affairs 69.2 17.6 13.2
Total 67.8 17.3 14.9

Source: Office of Personnel Management

*Margin of error is roughly plus or minus 5 percent