What is Driving Some SES Employees to Leave Government?

Results from a recent OPM survey offer insight as to why SES federal employees choose to leave their federal jobs.

The results of a recent survey of federal employees in the Senior Executive Service conducted and published by the Office of Personnel Management offers insights into why these employees choose to leave their government jobs.

SES Exit Survey Results

The SES Exit Survey was administered August 2016 through July 2017. 279 SES employees responded from 21 federal agencies.

The majority of respondents indicated they were retiring or resigning (73%) which was roughly the same as in previous years. About half of respondents who were departing indicated they would be working for pay or looking for paid employment in the near future (49%), and of those, 73% said they would work for their agency in the future either as an employee or contractor.

Intentions for working among the departing SES employees are:

  • In the private sector (27%)
  • Self-employed (15%) 
  • In non-profit (13%)
  • As a Government contractor (13%)
  • State or local government (8%)
  • Work as a reemployed annuitant for a Federal agency (4%) 
  • Other (21%)

77% said they plan to work full time, but only 55% said they would be working for increased pay.

The top-three factors influencing senior executives to leave are: political environment (37%), senior leadership (35%) and a desire to enjoy life without work commitments (32%).

OPM said that executives’ performance is evaluated on a pay-for-performance system where senior executives are rated annually on a combination of demonstrated leadership abilities through the five Executive Core Qualifications, as well as measurable results. 79% of respondents indicated they were rated either “Outstanding” or “Exceeds Fully Successful” on their most recent performance appraisal, and 68% said their rating was a reflection of their performance, while 10% disagreed.

OPM Recommendations for Agencies

OPM made some recommendations for federal agencies based on the survey results.

It was suggested that agencies focus on strategic talent management and succession planning (one area that the survey results indicated could be improved) to effectively forecast executive resources, assess developmental needs, develop current SES members for critical positions, and create a pipeline of high-quality successors for the full range of executive positions within an organization.

OPM also said agencies should prioritize the continued development of senior executives to optimize executive engagement and performance and consider incentives such as including sabbaticals, offering a different position or offering phased retirement to retain executives.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.