Turnover Up as More Workers Quit the Federal Government

The federal government’s turnover rate in FY 2017 increased slightly over the previous year due to more federal employees resigning.

In 2017, turnover among Federal employees increased due to higher numbers of workers choosing to voluntarily resign their positions.

The first year of the Trump administration saw 468,000 employees leave the Federal government resulting in a turnover rate of 16.7%, up from 16.4% in 2016, according to data obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Of that number, 189,000 workers quit the government in 2017, up from 162,000 in 2016. The Federal government’s quit rate reached 6.7% in 2017 compared to 5.8% in 2016 and 5.4% in 2015.

While more employees chose to quit the government, fewer decided to retire last year.

The number of other separations (including retirements, deaths, and disabilities) fell in 2017 to 123,000, down from 138,000 in 2016. The other separations rate declined from 4.9% in 2016 to 4.4% in 2017.

Rates are determined by the number of separations during the entire year as a percent of annual average employment.

Aging Federal Workforce

From 2011 to 2014, the annual number of workers quitting Federal service was smaller than the number of other separations. Since 2015, this has reversed with 2017 marking the widest gap between quits and other separations in the past three years.

With more workers quitting than retiring, concerns of an aging Federal workforce become more acute.

OPM reports that approximately 45% of the full-time Federal workforce is over age 50, with 4% of those workers over age 65.

Even as total separations grew, the number of persons hired for the government declined. In 2017, the Federal government hired 456,000 people, down from 487,000 in 2016.

The combination of fewer retirements and fewer hires is resulting in an older workforce. OPM estimates that only 6% of full-time Federal employees are now under the age of 30.

Layoffs and Discharges

Although the start of the Trump administration brought concerns that the new administration would increase firings, the total number of Federal employees laid off or discharged in 2017 remained the same as in 2016.

In both 2016 and 2017, there were 157,000 layoffs and discharges for a rate of 5.6%. This contrasts with 163,000 layoffs and discharges in 2015.

Comparisons with the Private Sector

Turnover, and the subcategories of turnover, has always been greater in the private sector than the Federal government, and this remained true in 2017.

In the private sector, the rate of total separations rose to 47.4% in 2017, up from 46.5% in 2016.

The rate of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs was 29.1% in 2017, rising from 28.1% in 2016. The number of quits has risen for eight consecutive years.

Quits can serve as a measure of workers’ willingness or ability to leave jobs and a rising number of quits are seen by some economists as a positive sign of economic confidence on the part of workers.

Layoffs and discharges rose from 15.4% in 2016 to 15.6% in 2017, while the rate of other separations (retirements, deaths, and disabilities) dropped from 3.0% in 2016 to 2.8% in 2017.

About the Author

Michael Wald is a public affairs consultant and writer based in the Atlanta area. He specializes in topics related to government and labor issues. Prior to his retirement from the U.S. Department of Labor, he served as the agency’s Southeast Regional Director of Public Affairs and Southeast Regional Economist.