How Satisfied Are You With Your Pay?

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By on May 29, 2012 in Pay & Benefits with 0 Comments

A recent Congressional Budget Office study showed that, generally speaking, federal employees were better compensated relative to their private sector counterparts. But what do federal employees themselves think about their pay, and how does their pay affect their job satisfaction?

The Partnership for Public Service set out to answer this question as part of its Best Places to Work in the Federal Government analysis. The analysis is based on data from OPM’s 2011 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

The results indicated that federal workers’ satisfaction with their pay is down 6.1% in 2011 over 2010, quite likely reflecting the current pay freeze that has been imposed on the federal workforce.

But how important is satisfaction with pay in the bigger picture? The Partnership for Public Service analysis found that the primary driver of overall job satisfaction is leadership, particularly an agency’s senior leaders. This is followed by a belief that employees’ skills are well-suited to their agency’s mission, and then, satisfaction with pay. The analysis found that leadership was, in fact, about five times more important, while skills/mission match was roughly three times more important than pay.

Pay satisfaction breaks down differently across categories such as grade levels, gender, age, and ethnicity. Higher ranking professionals (GS 13-15) were the most satisfied with their pay, however, this group also experienced a 6.1% decline over 2010. The average satisfaction score for workers at all other pay levels was only 58% and had a 7.8% decrease over 2010 scores.

Regarding gender and ethnicity, the analysis found no difference in pay satisfaction between men and women and only a very slight difference in age categories. There was a notable difference across ethnicity, however, with whites indicating the highest pay satisfaction and multi-racial employees the lowest (see tables below).

Pay Category

2011 2010
Federal Wage System 59.6% 61.1%
GS 1-12 57.9% 60.7%
GS 13-15 74.1% 78.9%
Senior Executive Service, Senior Level, Scientific Professional, and Other 57.2% 62.1%
All 59.1% 63%

Gender and Ethnicity

Men 62.3%
Women 62.3%
40+ 62.2%
Under 40 62.7%
Multi-racial 53.8%
American Indian or Native American 56.5%
Black or African-American 58.7%
Asian 59.4%
Hispanic or Latino 63.1%
White 64.2%

What agencies had the most problems with pay satisfaction? According to the study, TSA has a big problem. Only 35.8% of employees there reported satisfaction with their pay. The Department of Labor also showed some potential problems, registering a 12.2% drop in pay satisfaction from 2010 to 2011.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel pay is the most important factor in your job satisfaction as a federal employee, or do you agree with the survey findings that agency leadership plays a more critical role? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.