News & Politics

A New Survey Shows Younger Federal Workers Are Most Engaged, Older Workers Are Most Satisfied

It also warns of the toll taken by sequester and budget uncertainty.

NASA employees are among the most satisfied with their jobs, according to a new survey of federal workers. Photograph by Jason and Bonnie Grower /

Young people in their twenties, thirties, and early forties, who make up half the federal workforce, are the most engaged government employees, according to a new study from the Office of Personnel Management. But they score lower than their older colleagues on the satisfaction scale. Reasons include sequester, a three-year pay freeze, and reduced training. The 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, which was conducted before the federal shutdown, serves as “an important warning about the long-term consequences of the sequestration and budget uncertainty,” says OPM’s director, Katherine Archuleta.

Those most satisfied with their jobs, with a score of 67 percent, are what the study calls “traditionalists,” those who were born in 1945 or earlier. They make up 2 percent of the federal workforce. Baby boomers (ages 49 to 67) are the largest individual group, at 48 percent, and their satisfaction score is on par with younger workers (ages 48 and below), at 59 percent. The main complaint of those who are in their forties or younger is that they aren’t “involved in decisions that affect their work.” They want more opportunity to improve their skills.

Worker satisfaction, particularly among those coming in at younger ages, is key to them staying in public-sector jobs, says Archuleta, adding, “We risk losing our most talented employees, as well as hurting our ability to recruit top talent for the future,” if budget uncertainty continues, says Archuleta. When survey respondents were asked to rate the “performance culture” at the office, compared with last year, the scores dropped in 11 of 13 specific categories, which included components such as pay, promotions, rewards, and recognition. The study said it is “critical” to tell employees they are doing well, and the value of positive or constructive feedback is “time-sensitive.” The report added that “the traditional midyear and year-end review should hold no surprises.”

The 376,500 workers who responded to the survey—almost half the federal workforce—are spread across 80 agencies, large and small, and include full- and part-time staff, both in and outside the US. The agencies with the greatest response rate included the National Science Foundation, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and the Office of Management and Budget.

The agencies that got the highest scores for satisfaction were the National Aeronautics and Space Administration among larger agencies and the US Trade and Development Agency and the Office of Navajo and Hopi Relocation among smaller ones.

The study includes “generation profiles” that provide interesting insights. The “traditionalists” are described as “hardworking, dedicated, [and] loyal,” followed by “baby boomers,” who are “driven, collaborative, [and] optimistic.” Generation X workers, 33 to 48 years old, “seek work/life balance” and are “independent.” Federal employees who are 32 and younger, “Generation Y,” are defined as “ambitious, multi-task, [and] team-oriented.” The largest number of this last group work at the Office of Management and Budget and the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

Are you a federal worker and you see yourself in the study? Share your thoughts on this study in the comments.