Eighty percent or more of feds identify strong benefits programs as a major part of why they stick with their jobs.  

Eighty percent or more of feds identify strong benefits programs as a major part of why they stick with their jobs.   Typo Art Bs/EyeEm/Getty Images

Here’s Why Employees Stick With A (Federal) Job, and More

Federal employees—and those who recruit them—often laud the excellent benefits that come with working for the government, among other things.

When asked what’s so great about a federal job, employees—and those who recruit them—often respond by highlighting desirable job benefits that come with working for the government. 

Indeed, the Office of Personnel Management’s own Federal Employee Benefits Surveys, cumulatively covering hundreds of thousands of feds, have consistently reinforced this point—showing around 80% or more of feds identify strong benefits programs (led by federal retirement annuities, the Thrift Savings Plan and Federal Employees Health Benefits insurance programs) as a major part of why they stick with their jobs.  

The Employee Benefit Research Institute recently published a new report exploring such issues—one zeroing in on what makes a job “sticky” for employees, covering data and anecdotal evidence on private- and public-sector employment over the last 40 years.  

Craig Copeland, EBRI’s director of Wealth Benefits Research parsed these findings for Government Executive and affirmed that attractive federal benefits remain crucial in helping agencies retain feds. 

“Yes, it is still clear that public sector employees—including feds—are more likely to stay at their job longer than other sectors, at least up until recent years,” Copeland told Government Executive. “The defined benefits plans that public sector jobs usually provide typically are an important part of the reason that public sector employees stay longer—as well as because of the overall typically better benefits offered to public sector employees when compared with the average private sector employee.” 

However, Copeland said that it’s hard to say if these long-term trends—the popularity of strong benefits and the stickiness of the public-sector jobs that offer them—persist among the growing younger slice of feds. 

“The issue here is that the percentage of long-tenured federal employees finally has started to decline in recent years,” Copeland said. “That's because many of the most experienced employees that stayed on the job so long—meaning the longest-serving of the baby boomer generation—finally have started to retire. And they're finally being replaced by younger employees.” 

“So, now we have data on many of these long-tenured employees, now retired or retiring, but not much long-term data on their replacements,” Copeland said. “This makes it hard to really gauge whether the younger public-sector workers will stay another additional 20 years or more, like the previous generation did.” 

“Still, when we ask people what their most important job benefit is, they typically say health insurance,” Copeland said. “Beyond that, what seems to be making the difference at the margins to retain employees are employers that offer financial wellbeing benefits—anything that helps financially, like a student loan benefit or loan payment benefits, or emergency savings help, and even employer-provided financial coaching.” Federal employers are relatively generous in these areas, he noted. 

The new EBRI report’s perhaps strongest throughline is that across the economy, younger employees now trend toward shorter tenures, potentially negatively impacting their retirement—particularly for government workers, whose retirement plans often require multiple years of employment to qualify. Feds, for example, must work at least 5 years to qualify to receive a Federal Employees Retirement System pension. 

Sign That Form! 

A recent appeals court decision underscores a rule in life we all know, but sometimes fail to act on: That in many cases, an unsigned financial or legal document lacks the force of law—with potentially horrendous consequences. 

In the case of Davis vs. the Office of Personnel Management, decided last month, it appears that over some years a federal employee diligently and repeatedly completed and signed lump-sum Federal Employees Retirement System death benefit forms—naming a changing roster of intended beneficiaries—but in 2017 when filling out one last version of the form, she failed to sign it. 

What went wrong? The sole named beneficiary on that form, a cousin, initially was notified and advised she “may be eligible” to receive the money, and to submit to OPM the standard SF-3104 Application for Death Benefits. But, upon review, OPM denied the claim entirely, noting that although otherwise filled out properly the form lacked a signature. Hence, despite evidence of the federal employee’s intent, under 5 U.S.C. § 8424(d), the cousin’s application was determined to be invalid. Subsequent appeals to alter OPM’s action through the Merit Systems Protection Board and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, were both rejected. 

So, make sure to complete the signature field on legal documents—including those required for federal benefits. 

Congress Signals Better Pay and Benefits May Be Ahead for Feds …  

Last week, Democrats in Congress unveiled a welcome proposal to boost federal salaries by 8.7%, a move that would bring salaries in line with inflation. 

And last weekend, in another portent of good news for feds, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., signaled that—contrary to many fellow Republicans—he opposes leveraging the ongoing debt ceiling standoff to negotiate spending cuts to Social Security or Medicare. 

McCarthy told CBS' “News Face the Nation” he wants to take slashing these programs completely “off the table,” and find savings and efficiencies elsewhere in federal spending. As for all American workers, Social Security and Medicare are often crucial components of federal employees’ overall pay and benefits as well as retirement.