Between pay freezes, furloughs and negative media coverage, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to work in the public sector these days. Are government workers gluttons for punishment?

Some seasoned federal workers say they’re drawn to public service because it’s more than just a job.

“I think federal employment is a privilege, a calling,” said government worker Doris Tirone. “It’s not a means to get rich, at least for the majority of us. In exchange for this privilege, the majority of the federal civilian workforce doesn’t take for granted that we work to serve our fellow Americans, not to pad our own pockets. Most of us take this fiduciary responsibility seriously.”

Jim Bunch, a contractor at the Department of Transportation, agreed that pay isn’t a motivating factor for most public servants. “The majority of folks that I work with at the federal, state, or local levels of government have that attitude and are dedicated to getting the job done and doing the most good for society at large no matter how many hours they need to put in.”

But with security, pensions and other benefits going out the window, is a sense of duty enough to entice employees to stick around?

“It takes a special mindset to devote yourself to pushing your agency’s mission through administration changes and public opinion mood swings,” said Kevin Lanahan, a state government employee. “It’s possible to start out with a feeling of calling, only to have it change to ‘just a job’ after these sorts of agency changes, or just [from] doing the same work for years.”

Peter Sperry believes his colleagues should roll back a bit of the passionate public servant talk.

“We all need to be dedicated and have a right [to] take pride in our work, but let’s not break our arms patting ourselves on the back either. The holier than thou, ‘I am a saint because I am in public service’ attitude is as annoying as it is undeserved. If you go to work every day committed to providing real value to your customers and the community, it does not matter who signs your paycheck.”

At the end of the day, what motivates government employees is less important than the quality of their work.

“Some folks do make it a point to have their job choices dictated by selected career paths that depend on serving their particular ‘calling,’ but not everyone does,” said another public servant. “It isn’t any badge of shame to simply do one’s job well, treat one’s co-workers with kindness and respect, and be appropriately compensated for it.”

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