Management

Why some senior federal employees leave government

Members of the Senior Executive Service that decide to leave the federal government do so both to seek full retirement and to seek employment elsewhere, meaning that agencies are losing out on experienced employees that could potentially work for the agency longer if not for factors that drive them away.

According to results from the most recent Federal Senior Executive Service Exit Survey, released June 11, 49 percent of departing SES employees who responded to the survey said that they would either be entering into or seeking paid employment after retiring from the federal government.

“As agencies explore ways to retain the members of the SES who intend to work after leaving, they should consider stay factors that are rated highly. Stay factors represent hypothetical changes in work-related circumstances that, if offered, might encourage an executive to stay in their current role,” wrote Office of Personnel Management acting-Director Margaret Weichert in a memorandum on the results.

Of the respondents, 30 percent said that an increase in pay would have been an important stay factor for their job, while 24 percent listed a verbal encouragement to stay, 20 percent listed a change in duties and 20 percent listed a retention incentive as additional stay factors.

An April 2018 Federal Salary Council Locality Pay Working Group study found that federal employees make over 30 percent less on average than their private sector counterparts, while an April 2017 Congressional Budget Office study noted that those feds with higher levels of education are more likely to face such a pay gap.

Departing SES employees listed the political environment, senior leadership and the desire to live without work commitments as the top three reasons for leaving.

On top of the factors that motivated employees to leave, many departing SES feds noted that they were not included in the succession planning for their positions.

“Succession management is critical to mission success and creates an effective process for recognizing, developing and retaining top leadership talent. Agencies are required to develop a comprehensive management succession program to fill agency supervisory and managerial positions. The exit survey results indicate agencies should focus efforts to ensure smooth transitions in leadership,” Weichert wrote.

The memo recommended that agencies focus on talent management and succession planning in the SES, prioritize developing their senior executives and consider options for retaining SES employees, such as sabbaticals, new positions and phased retirement.

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