Office politics and the buddy system are a bigger problem than partisan politics, according to a survey of federal workers and managers released last week by the Merit Systems Protection Board.

More than 800 senior personnel officers and 2,800 rank-and-filers responded to the detailed MSPB questionnaire, which dealt with the layoffs that have rocked the federal establishment since the Reagan administration took office.

Many of those responding said that some employes had received "preferential treatment" that spared them from being laid off. But only 4 percent of the respondents attributed the special handling to partisan politics.

When asked what form that preferential treatment took, 17 percent said it was the result of bosses giving subordinates "inflated performance appraisals" to protect them from being laid off. Fifteen percent of the personnel officers and 16 percent of the workers cited "personal friendship" as a factor in whether an employe was laid off or kept, and only 4 percent said that partisan political relationships had a bearing in the RIFs.

Almost one in every five of the personnel officers said they had been improperly pressured by bosses to save or fire employes during the 1981 RIFs.

And the report said that a disproportionate number of women and minorities had been hurt by the RIFs because of the seniority system, but the report says that most of the people fired were white males who make up the bulk of the federal work force.