Employers in the Washington metropolitan area are following nationwide trends by being less optimistic about the near-term economy than at this time last year, according to a survey of hiring plans released last week.

But the area employment outlook remains somewhat better than elsewhere, Manpower Inc. said in its quarterly jobs outlook report.

Thirty-five percent of the employers surveyed here expect to hire new workers in the April-June quarter, while 55 percent expect to maintain current employment levels, 6 percent are uncertain and 4 percent plan cutbacks.

A year ago, 40 percent of area employers planned to increase employment, 58 percent saw no changes and one percent each expected decreases or were unsure.

Despite the reduced employment plans that showed up in the survey, Manpower President Mitchell Fromstein said the results reflect "continued optimism in the health of the economy and are particularly significant in that they come in the wake of consistently pessimistic economic projections."

Nationally 31 percent of employers surveyed said they plan to hire in the next three months. Sixty percent said they saw no changes, 6 percent planned cutbacks and 3 percent were unsure. A year earlier, 33 percent planned increases, 58 percent expected no changes, 6 percent anticipated cutbacks and 3 percent were uncertain.

Strong employment gains were forecast this quarter in the mining, construction and manufacturing sectors.

Manpower said its survey found that employment opportunities in the Washington area remained best in Northern Virginia, where 47 percent of employers expect to add to their staffs. In D. C., 44 percent of the employers expect to hire.

Suburban Maryland employment gains are projected to be less strong, with only 27 percent of employers expecting new hires and 5 percent planning cutbacks.

Second-quarter employment patterns have indicated general full-year employment rates in recent years. Since the 1974-1975 recession, second-quarter jobs gains have outpaced increases in other periods, with more than 1.5 million persons added to the work force each year.

In another development, Manpower announced the opening of an office in Gaithersburg at the Standard Federal Savings & Loan building. The temporary help company's new office, which will serve upper Montgomery County, will be headed by Wanda O'Neale.