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At many offices, half of staff think of leaving

Apr. 14, 2013 - 12:29PM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments

More than half of employees at the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Secretary were considering leaving their jobs within a year, responses to the latest governmentwide employee satisfaction survey show.

One employee there, who asked not to be named, said he used to love his job as a program manager but wants out as soon as possible because of incompetent management and poor leadership.

“Mediocrity and bureaucracy seem to be the name of the game,” he said.

A logistics specialist with Army Materiel Command — where 39 percent of employees said they were considering leaving — moved up his retirement date by a few years because of the continuing pay freeze and the Defense Department’s planned furloughs.

“The pay freeze on top of the furlough on top of whatever else they are going to throw our way is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.

Across government, more than 30 percent of employees were considering leaving their jobs — either by taking jobs elsewhere in government or the private sector, or by retiring — within a year, according to a Federal Times analysis of survey results. Among those most interested in leaving their jobs were employees at DHS and the Army, as well as some Defense Department agencies.

Among those least likely to leave were employees at the Patent and Trademark Office, Environmental Protection Agency and NASA.

Almost 690,000 employees from 292 agencies filled out the Office of Personnel Management’s 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, by far the biggest response rate ever for that survey.

To compile its list of agencies with the most employees considering leaving, Federal Times examined responses to the survey question “I am considering leaving my job within the year” and ranked them according to percentage of employees who answered affirmatively.

The high number of feds who said they were considering leaving their jobs reflects a high level of frustration and unhappiness with the general state of federal employment, said Henry Romero, a former OPM executive and senior adviser at consultant Federal Management Partners.

“Employees are unhappy with the lack of pay raises and the constant fed-bashing that they read and hear about every day in the news media, and are expressing their desire to leave these situations,” he said.

But while 30 percent of federal employees stated their intention to leave their jobs within a year, turnover within the government was closer to 11 percent in fiscal 2012.

Despite their unhappiness, many employees are not serious about leaving or they see the private sector as even more volatile, Romero said.

“The lingering effects of the recession, especially slow job growth in the nongovernment job sector, means that there isn’t a whole lot of ‘greener grass’ on the other side of the fence,” he said.

The Commerce Department’s inspector general’s office had 56 percent of respondents say they were considering leaving.

“Since Congress imposed pay freezes on federal employees, transferring from one federal agency to another was the only way some employees could receive a salary increase,” said Clark Reid, spokesman for the Commerce Department IG’s office.

“If senior positions were already filled, Commerce OIG employees who wanted to advance in their career fields had no option other than taking a position with another federal agency,” Reid said.

In fiscal 2012, about 39 employees out of about 138 — or 28 percent — left the agency, with 20 transferring to other agencies and 19 leaving federal service. But only three employees have left so far in 2013, Reid said.

Employees caught between pay freezes and poor leadership are more likely to look for work at other agencies or in the private sector, said Robert Tobias, director of the Key Executive Leadership Programs at American University. A lack of engagement also contributes to drops in productivity as employees begin to eye the exits, he said.

“When people are not engaged, they are looking for other jobs, and when they are looking for other jobs, they are not giving their discretionary energy to accomplish the organization’s goals and objectives,” Tobias said.

“Morale right now is really in the tank,” said William Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees.

Employees are increasingly frustrated with being the target of both Congress and the administration when it comes to possible budget cuts, he said.

As congressional appropriations have “slowly strangled” agencies, employees are forced to try to do everything with insufficient resources, he said.

Spokeswoman Marsha Catron said DHS is using the survey results to improve employee engagement and to enhance communication, training and employee recognition at every level of the organization.

Dorsie Jones, a human resources manager at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where only 16 percent of employees said they were considering leaving, said the center is able to keep turnover low by offering flexible work schedules, extensive training and new project assignments.

She said the center also has an extensive mentoring program and trains managers to deal with conflicts and promote employee engagement.

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