Even during the worst global pandemic of the century, increased demands on public jobs and a radical shift to predominantly remote work, federal employees are confident in their agencies’ ability to keep them safe and recognize their hard work, according to results of the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

Those survey numbers, which were distributed by the IRS to employees April 5 but cover governmentwide results as a point of comparison, show a workforce that was predominantly still working from home during the September to October 2020 response time and even more satisfied in their work than they were in 2019.

The number of federal employees working virtually every day jumped from just over 3 percent prior to the pandemic to nearly 60 percent at the height of the pandemic. That number has since dropped slightly to 47.3 percent.

Feds are also overwhelmingly satisfied with the telework options at their agency, with 78.4 percent answering positively in the 2020 results.

And though many IRS employees were brought back into the office to address pandemic relief payments and delayed tax returns in the height of COVID-19, the agency has maintained consistently high telework levels, with 82 percent of employees teleworking every day as of the time of the survey.

Feds are also fairly confident in their agencies’ ability to maintain their health and safety in the work environment, with 77 percent of employees positive on that front, about the same level of confidence expressed in the 2019 survey results.

And the 2020 survey was issued before the start of the Biden administration, which ushered in a series of more stringent COVID-19 safety measures for federal workplaces.

Federal employees were also more satisfied with their jobs than they were in 2019, with general satisfaction up 2.6 points, pay satisfaction up 5 points, satisfaction with performance recognition up 5.7 points and satisfaction with information received from leadership up 5.8 points.

Not all agencies are as satisfied as the governmentwide average, however, as employees at agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs have reported some dissatisfaction with their leadership’s communication about COVID-19 response measures.

But for employees at the IRS, the FEVS results indicate that management’s response to the pandemic has instilled increased confidence from the workforce.

“The Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) results from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey show 76 percent of the workforce trusts IRS management to ‘respond effectively to future emergencies’ based on their experience of the last year. In the face of unimaginable challenges, these results are a testament to the expertise, dedication and professionalism of IRS leaders,” Executive Director Chad Hooper of the Professional Managers Association said in a statement.

“Additionally, 86 percent of respondents felt their team worked together to get the job done. Despite an unprecedented pivot to remote work, IRS leaders rose to the challenge of ensuring their employees remained connected and engaged throughout the pandemic. PMA is proud to represent and support the front line IRS managers and leaders who have continued to deliver on their mission with pride.”

But though the pandemic has largely appeared to increase federal employee happiness with their jobs, it may have also caused some employees on the cusp of retirement to think about ending their federal careers sooner rather than later.

At the IRS, 10.1 percent of respondents to the survey said that they were considering retiring within the next year, up 1.2 points from before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of those employees newly considering retirement, 40.6 percent said that their plans had changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking at just the 30,281 IRS employees that responded to the FEVS survey, a 10.1 percent retirement over the next year would result in a loss of 3,058 employees. If that percentage were to be applied to the total 82,415 employees at the agency as of December 2020, the IRS would lose 8,324 employees.

The total number of employees retiring from the IRS in the next year is likely to be somewhere between those numbers, but, as the agency lost nearly 4,000 employees in 2019 due to retirement, it could result in the kind of larger-than-average exodus of retirement-age employees that federal officials have warned about for the past few years.

The Department of Homeland Security similarly saw a 0.7 percent increase in the number of employees planning to retire in the next year and 38.8 percent of those doing so due to COVID-19 considerations.

The Office of Personnel Management has yet to release their formal governmentwide results report for the FEVS survey, though some individual agencies already have their results.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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