Nearly one-fifth of the senior government personnel officers surveyed by the Merit Systems Protection Board said they were "improperly pressured" by their bosses in 1981 to violate regulations for conducting a reduction-in-force, according to findings released yesterday.

The survey also confirmed earlier reports by Congress that a disproportionate number of women and minorities were affected by the RIFs.

And it found that, even though only a small number of employes were laid off or had their jobs downgraded, the job actions had a negative effect on employe morale.

The study concluded that the number of employes directly affected was much smaller than originally predicted.

Overall, 6,134 full-time government employes lost their jobs in 1981 through RIFs, and another 6,460 employes either were reassigned or downgraded, but did not suffer a loss of pay, the study said.

Combined, 12,594 employes--or 0.67 percent of the 1.8 million full-time civilian federal work force--were directly affected by the Reagan administration's forced personnel cuts. That number is much lower, the board said, than predictions that as many as 35,000 federal employes would lose their jobs.

The board's survey was based on a questionnaire completed by 900 senior personnel officers and 2,600 employes.

Dennis Little, who directed the study, said it showed that most federal workers believe the RIFs were handled fairly and according to federal rules. But one out of five of the senior personnel officials who responded said they had been pressured to violate RIF regulations. Most of them (85 percent) said they were pressured by top management, while 22 percent cited their immediate supervisors and 3 percent, co-workers. (Multiple responses were allowed.)

The pressure took several forms, but the personnel managers said most frequently they were told either to inflate performance appraisals to save favored employes or to target employes for firing who were unpopular with management.

The personnel officers also complained that the government's current system for rating job performance was not accurate enough to be used when making RIFs. But more than 80 percent of them said they would support giving more weight to job performance in a RIF if a better system were developed.

Although women comprise only 37 percent of the federal work force, 51 percent of the employes who lost their jobs were women, Little said. Minorities make up 23 percent of the work force, but 40 percent of those fired, the report said.

The report noted, however, that it is possible that the agencies that conducted most of the RIFs employed a disproportionately higher number of women and minorities than other parts of the government.

Little said almost 65 percent of the workers and half of the personnel officers surveyed in agencies affected by RIFs said the layoffs had a negative effect on employe morale.

Even in agencies that were not affected by RIFs, 30 percent of the workers and 27 percent of the managers said morale became worse because of the discussion or threat of RIFs.

The survey also found that personnel managers felt the government should require that qualified employes who were laid off be rehired before outside applicants.