Workers far less happy in federal government than private sector, report finds

So many studies regularly explore the low levels of employee morale in U.S. workplaces, that it can be hard to see what’s notable about any new bleak report on job satisfaction—especially one that focuses on unhappy federal workers.

And yet for the more than 2 million federal employees, that dissatisfaction reflects in part their views on whether they can report law violations, whether their agency is coerced by partisan politics, and whether the workforce has the skills and resources to achieve their agency’s mission.

In short, job satisfaction is an indicator of productivity and government effectiveness.

In the news reported Wednesday about steadily declining job satisfaction among federal workers, here’s another layer: The average government worker comes in 13 points below the average private-sector employee in terms of job satisfaction, according to the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” report.

“This is an ongoing train crash,” said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service.

Hay Group, which collaborated on the data, found that job satisfaction in the private sector was not only higher than in the public sector, it even climbed since last year — from 70.0 to 70.7 points out of 100 — all while the government numbers fell.

Of the 10 questions that both public and private employees answered, government scored higher on only question: Do you like the kind of work you do?

On every other question, including how well colleagues cooperate and how well management keeps employees informed, private-sector workers gave their organizations higher marks.

The greatest difference between government and business workers’ satisfaction was reflected in their responses on a question about recognition.

Only 43 percent of federal workers said they were satisfied with the acknowledgement they get when they do good work, compared to 64 percent of private-sector employees. Pay, it turned out, was less a concern for government workers than doubting whether their agencies recognized their contributions.

It doesn’t help, of course, when citizens’ confidence in government is so low as well. In a poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports earlier this fall, 37 percent of respondents said they thought zombies would do a better job running the country than our federal government does. (Another 26 percent were undecided.)

Lillian Cunningham is the editor and feature writer for The Washington Post's 'On Leadership' section.
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