Complaining but not quitting: Federal workers choose security despite tepid job satisfaction

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Job satisfaction can vary dramatically within the federal bureaucracy.

An Office of Personnel Management survey this year found sharp differences in job satisfaction ratings for federal workers on an index combining views on their job, pay and whether they would recommend their department or agency as a good place to work.

Some agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of State, scored substantially above the government average, while other agencies, including the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the National Archives and Records Administration were at the bottom of the list.

In demand

For all the mixed signals, Mr. Richwine noted that booksellers such as Amazon.com list dozens of titles about how to get hired by the federal government. There is even a “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Government Jobs.” His local community college, he said, offers a course on negotiating the federal hiring process.

“It’s amazing that people will pay to find a job where you have pay freezes,” Mr. Richwine said. “All these data points converging indicate that federal jobs are highly desirable.”

The call for improving the federal workplace environment was made after a November jobs report showed national unemployment at 7.7 percent, a slight decline from October’s 7.9 percent, although economists said the dip was largely the result of a drop in labor participation, with 542,000 people giving up looking for work during that time.

The 2012 OPM study surveyed 687,000 federal workers, more than twice as many as any of its previous reports. Despite the dip in satisfaction, the survey also shows that two-thirds of workers remain “hardworking, motivated and mission-focused even amidst the many challenges facing government today.”

“As far as federal workers being dissatisfied, even our own data shows that’s not accurate. You still have over 50 percent satisfied with the job,” Mr. Richwine said. “I wouldn’t call that a crisis.”

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