Are Federal Employees Happy or Disgruntled? Some of Both But Most are Satisfied

Federal employees generally satisfied with their career choice and their pay and benefits but many readers think there is considerable room for improvement.

Are federal employees happy or disgruntled?

Many Americans believe they are not as well off as their parents according to recent statistics despite greater economic prosperity. And, from the plethora of comments by federal employees on a wide variety of issues addressed by articles on, many federal employees are also unhappy with various aspects of their employment.

But perhaps Richard NIxon was right. There may be a silent majority that does not take the time to write or voice opinions and are generally happy.

Last week, we ran a survey to determine if readers, the vast majority of whom are active or retired federal employees, are generally happy with their career choice.

Not surprisingly, some readers did not like the survey. Several readers voiced discontent over the questions by expressing dissatisfaction with the fact the survey did not address specific benefits for federal employees but, instead, asked if a reader was “generally satisfied” with pay and benefits. Other readers felt that the survey should have addressed their specific job category because the reader thought that specific category was significantly underpaid compared to the private sector. Others thought the survey should have included more categories in which they could express their dissatisfaction–such as the classification system that has resulted in a reader being paid less than that person believes he or she should be making for the job.

Overall, we received about 500 written comments from readers who took the time to send in their views in addition to voting in the survey. By far, the biggest complaint from readers was dissatisfaction with agency management or supervision. You can get a feel for the tenor of these comments from the reader observations below.

But, despite the number of negative comments on various topics by readers, a number of readers expressed pride in doing a good job and a sense of satisfaction with their federal career. The most positive comments came from readers who like the federal retirement system. A number of readers also expressed satisfaction with being able to carry health benefits into retirement.

Overall, readers are generally satisfied with their job, their pay and benefits and their decision to work for Uncle Sam. Here are the survey results. The figures have been rounded to the nearest percentage so the total may not equal 100%.

Are you generally satisfied with your job as a federal employee?

yes: 68%

no: 27%

undecided: 4%

not applicable 0%

Are you generally satisfied with your pay and benefits?

yes: 75%

no: 22%

undecided 3%

How does your pay and benefits package compare with other Americans?

better than most: 66%

inferior to most: 16%

undecided: 18%

Are you generally satisfied with having your decision to become a federal employee?

yes: 79%

no: 13%

undecided: 8%

As you can see from the results, most readers are generally happy with the career choice, their jobs and their pay and benefits. Here are observations from some of these readers.

A human resources specialist with TSA writes: “Government employment has been good to me – I’ve had plenty of opportunities for advancement and now as I near retirement realize I’ll continue to reap the benefits with one of the best retirement packages out there.”

A human resources specialit with the Navy in Philadelphia says: “I am very satisified with the pay and benefits! There have been many of the positions that I have held throughout my career that I have enjoyed more than others. In addition, I’ll also be very excited when I reach full retirement eligibility in 4 years + 2 months & will be taking my FEHB benefits with me!”

A Forestry Technician with the Forest Service from Michigan commented: “I have always said during good times for private industry our fed don’t look that great but let the private have hard times and our jobs look much better. We stay at a even keel, most of us work in smaller communtities, where housing isn’t out of this world and our kids can grow up in a small town atmoshere.”

A senior labor advisor from OCC in Washington, DC had this to say: “95% of the noise comes from 5% of the employees. Could things be better? Sure. Are they bad? Heck no.”

A special agent with Homeland Security in Virginia wrote: “Happy I did it! . No job is perfect . Great experience.”

A human resources specialist with the Dept. of Education in Washington, DC has mixed emotions: “Being a high school graduate with a child to support in the 70’s, my first job was in the federal government; and my goal was to support my family. I never saw it as a career but as a job. I wish I’d gone a diferent route; nevertheless, I’m happy to have a well-paying job with benefits to boot.”

A human resources manager with the Army in Hampton, VA says: “Job security and reasonable pay and benefits, along with good bosses and meaningful and fun work all reaffirm that I made the right decision to work for the Federal government some 30 years ago.”

An engineer with the Forest Service in Durango, CO is happy: “Most of us federal employees are very fortunate to have a good job, with overall excellent pay and benefits.”

A Forest Service retiree writing from Taos, NM writes: “You can’t beat the benefits that we have as federal employees. I’am retired and enjoying it. Not to many other jobs that you can retire a early (56 years for me).”

An associate regional director with the Dept. of Interior says the job has been good: “I don’t believe most Federal employees realize that compared to many others in the working world our pay, benefits, and opportunities are really quite good. I’m very happy I chose federal employment and have had a long, fulfilling career. Sure the going is tough right now, but in the long run our ability to make good things happen for the American public, or to keep bad things from happening, is well worth it.”

A management analyst with the Navy in Oxnard, CA compares a federal job to the private sector: “This morning the receptionist at my dentist office told me for the small office she worked in the health insurance was $700 a month for her and her retired husband and that when she retired she could not take it with her. I decided then that I will be extremely happy as a GS-13 with 24 years of federal service and will wear my golden handcuffs with no further complaints.”

An engineer with the Navy in Washington, DC likes the work: “Technically challenging work in the interest of the country – working with talented, dedicated people in the DOD and DOE/national labs.”

A human resources officer from Auburn, Alabama is embarrassed by federal pay: “Compared to people in the local area my pay is much much more. Plus, it’s embarrassing the amount of paid time we get off compared to others!”

A botanist with the Forest Service in Montana has found a niche: “For my small town I have one of the best jobs. I do get frustrated with bureaucratic behavior sometime but I still get to go to the woods!”

A budget analyst with Mesa Verde National Park is very happy: “Great place to work and I have been able to move up significantly in the time I have been a Govt employee. Great benefits and for this area great pay. I am grateful for really good employment and work conditions.”

A senior counsel with the NLRB in Washington has job satisfaction: “While my salary is lower than private sector attorneys who have practced for the same number of years, I find the work challenging and interesting, the work environment pleasant and suportive and I witness first hand the impact of my advice and guidance.”

An engineer with the Department of Energy in Washington State has this observation: “Those who complain about salary & benefits the most do not appear to be too successful in finding anyone outside the federal government that agrees with their view of their worth. Leads one to believe they are suffering from inflated egos. Not to claim everything in the government is wonderful, but a person must also accept responsibility for controlling their own career & degree of happiness.”

But not everyone is happy. Here are comments from readers who think the federal job they have has not been up to their expectations.

An IT specialist with the Social Security Administration in Baltimore writes: “The pay is lower than in the private sector. Benefits compare with the government providing more vacation and sick time. However, there is still an “old boy” network mentality where managements’ friends get promoted over those who do more work.”

A paralegal specialist with HUD in Seattle is not happy: “I’ve worked for this Agency for over 17 years and the decline is becoming more and more apparent with each passing day. This Agency puts ordinary people into supervisory positions WITH NO TRAINING and expects them to be able to succeed….It’s disgusting how the government treats its workers! Disgusting!”

A clerk with the Postal Service in Phoenix expresses discontent this way: “I enjoy the actual job working the mail….but the conditions we have to work under make even this job very difficult to come to each day. It is the quality of the people who go into manement that makes working for the postal service such a stressful job.”

A Coast Guard employee from New York is struggling: “Not enough Cost of Living adjustment pay for living in very expensive Long Island NY and medical/dental benefits are too costly.”

An attorney with the VA has mixed emotions about government employment: “Supervisors are unbelievably dysfunctional, but I have endured their equal in the private sector with worse benefits and less job security.”

A communications analyst with the IRS in Atlanta writes: “Advancement is very difficult if you are in the wrong ethic or gender group.”

An employee of the National Park Service in Washington, DC sees this problem: “The WASO office is a political nightmare from the top down-it should be looked at and overhauled big time.”

A human resources specialist with HHS in Rockville, Maryland is not happy with federal benefits: “Promotions are slow, insurance is not as good as expected.”

An employee of the Veterans Administration in New York comments: “Lazy, unqualified management is the biggest problem in the government work force.”

A program expert with the SSA in Chicago has this complaint: “SSA is now less about public service and has now become an arrogant self-serving bureacracy. About half the employees care about serving the public, but the majority of the managers care more about SSA’s statistical performance indicators and getting ahead.”

An administrative assistant with Homeland Security in Washington has this succinct comment: “Not enough money.”

An employee of OPM in Phoenix, AZ is frustrated: “It is near impossible to get out of. There is little respect for the work and opportunities to advance are near non-existent. I’ve done all the right things–went back to school, got a degree, etc. but it’s hard to get out of the “box”. ”

An EEO specialist with the Army in Ft. Drum, NY is upset: “I am extremely upset about the new personnel system. It will effect minorites, women and the disabled.”

A safety inspector with the USDA in Frederick, Maryland is worried about the future: “I feel that management in our agency has no thoughts for the rank and file. It seems as if we are tolerated. The agency is undergoing vast changes and little is said to us about what is happening or when it will happen. It makes you wonder if you will have a job tomorow.”

A letter carrier with the Postal Service in Murfreesboro, TN does not like management: “Our job would be great if we did not have so much micro management.”

In short, the satisfaction of many is dependent on where they work in the federal government. One the whole, job satisfaction among federal employees is good although not as high as it is in some companies.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47