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Back in September, there was talk about mandating unpaid leave and a 10 percent reduction in pay for Federal civilian employees (HR 6134/HR 335). Now the watchdogs are salivating in anxious anticipation of a possible EO that would authorize Fed employees an extra day or half-day off (with pay) around the Christmas holiday.

Short-sighted as some are, John Q. Citizen doesn't understand (or choses to ignore) the huge trade-offs one makes when accepting employment with the Federal government, high salaries -vs- public service being primary amongst them. Now, in these ailing economic times, those "trade-offs" are looking pretty good to Johnny-Come-Lately who took a gamble in the '90's when he was lured by Wall Street (and Main Street) promises of high salaries/wages, company-paid benefits, annual bonuses to knock your socks off, and overtime pay that regularly turned a $13/hr job into a $19.5/hr job.

I think Federal employment is a privilege, a calling; 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. Perhaps we're not good at marketing this message but that's part of who we are.

True, there are a few among us who "work the system"; but I challenge anyone to point me to even ONE private sector employer who doesn't also have similar employees on their payroll. It may be difficult for John Q. to avoid stereotyping Federal employees from what he hears on the airways but, it sure would be nice to see even a bit of media coverage about the majority of us who are doing our jobs right rather than being bombarded by coverage over salacious stories about a few bad apples in our bunch. Maybe we're boring and what we do just doesn't sell newspapers ... but the little recognition we do get (in the form of paid time-off and job security) should be "hands-off" until Wall-Streeters decide to donate their annual bonus budgets to the struggling Ma-and-Pa companies who are the true employers and job-creators in this country. Taking from the Feds is not going to get this economy moving again.

Tags: HR, HRGovGal, compensation, federal employment, holiday pay, paid holiday, time off

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Federal workers have it cushy compared to State and Local :-).  Regardless, when I started my career working at a council of governments, and then a transit agency, it was a conscious choice to work in the public sector in order to "do good" over just making money.  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.  Most work much much more than 40 hours a week.  

So in my mind its definitely a calling instead of just a job.

I am not sure I can agree with the job security premise  A lot of State and Local governments are laying off or have laid off works.  We also have hiring freezes and furloughs.  So at a minimum job security in the public sector is not what it used to be.  However, I will agree that the considerations for government work are different than private sector work.

I will agree that public sector work is more of a calling, especially now.  I work in for the State of Colorado.  State employee have seen a pay freeze for at least 3 years.  While we have seen benefit costs (i.e. health care and such) increase.  In addition, we have been asked to pay 2.5% more into the public employee retirement program.  Furthermore, some state agencies have been required to take furlough days.  In short, most state employee have seen a decrease in take home pay.

So I would say that anyone who wants to work in government is either financially well off or just a little crazy.  

Thanks for raising this questions because it raises an important topic for everyone.  We have increasingly seen a trend today of people either saying or purporting to say "I don't get health care benefits, why should they?", "I don't have a pension, so why do they get one?", and other sentiment of this vain.  I find it troubling that we have invested so much into a race to the bottom rather than question why we should accept these trends.

Entitlement is a widespread concept these days.  The "entitlement" generation often looks inward to see "what's in it for me" rather than outward to see how they can serve with purpose.  I appreciate your point of view and hope others can do the same!

I'll second @Jason: It depends on who you ask.

I see three kinds of government workers.

  • Political appointees who may bounce back and forth between private sector and government.
  • People who happen to work at a government because that's where the work is. Some IT, HR, clerical, data entry, construction, etc. If they find a higher-paying job outside of government, they'll be gone in a heartbeat.
  • People who, like @Doris and @Jim, see government service as an opportunity to work for the greater good and accept the trade-offs that government work demands. 

It takes a special mindset to devote yourself to pushing your agency's mission through administration changes and public opinion mood swings. And 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 doing the same work for years).

I was lucky to get into a policy position when I started in state government. Although I've transitioned to web and social media, I still have a sense of mission. As I creep closer to retirement, though, I find some of the passion is gone, and I have to motivate myself differently to regain that passion.

Great post, Doris!

Thanks for your thoughts, Kevin!

Ha !  Yes, it's hard to keep the passion going as adminstrations and policy directions come in and out of favor.  In transportation we have the additional issue of rebranding the same old problems over and over again and having to deal with the solution of the hour to fix them. 

I have recently been re-invigorated by all of the young folks (when did I become "not young"?) that are using socail media such as GovLoop and transportation camps to bring new ideas and enthusiasm to the profession.  The enthusiasm shown is like a breath of fresh air and is catching.  In transportation the use of mobile devices to collect and distribute real time informaiton, crowd sourcing, Open Data, and new mobile apps are also actually providing new solutions to old problems.



I couldn't agree more and I do feel like the majority of us who are in this profession because it's our calling do get overlooked in the popular media and policy discussions of late. Thanks for sharing, Doris!

It's a calling and my research laboratory - "Government Employees in the Mist." :-)

Government work has aspects of a calling; but so do most professions.  A doctor in private practice is no less called to medicine than one working at the VA and the investment manager helping my elderly parents derive the most value from their retirement savings is performing no less a public service then the ones who manage the state or city pension fund. 


We all need to be dedicated and have a right take pride in our work but lets 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. 

I think there's a distinction to be made between "dedication" and "calling".  Regardless of one's calling, one may or may not dedicate one's self to a profession.  So, while I see "dedication as someone's efforts within a career field, I see one's "calling" as a motivator toward a career field.  You know Peter, there are many who believe physicians pursue private practice because they seek the financial rather than the altruist returns that come from helping patients.  On the flipside, those who practice in a scheduled pay environment (like the VA) usually forego a huge financial return in order to serve some greater good.  

I agree that it depends on the mindset of the person.  I see government service as a calling because I have done it at the federal, local, and state levels with the idea that I was working for the people of the United States, the people of Lincoln, or the people of Nebraska.  If I do it for the money, my boss, or the office or agency, it is a job.  That mindset also affects how I do the work and what compromises I am willing to make.  People leave government work for better jobs, or because it does not measure up to their ideal of service.  People who stick around in hopes of making it better have a calling.

I think we do a disservice when we adopt an either/or perspective.  Federal employment is both a calling, and a job (and occasionally a bitter disappointment), depending on what sort of job/role one is in.

We too often forget that not everybody is steeped in critical policy work or serving the public directly, or lowering themselves out of a helicopter to rescue someone.  A significant portion of the federal workforce, no matter what the country, are involved in doing the very sorts of jobs they might do if they were working for an insurance company, or in accounting for a large retail chain, or for the local school board.

Perhaps beantown cult favorite Jonathan Richman (and the Modern Lovers) said it best when they declared in song several decades back:

Well we've got alot alot alot of hard work today
We gotta rock at the government center
Make the secretaries feel better
When they put those stamps on the letters

And they got alot alot alot of great desks and chairs
Uh huh, at the government center
We gotta make the secretaries feel better
When they put those stamps on all those letters

That is not to denigrate the work itself whatsoever, but there ARE a lot of folks working "for the feds" who are happy and proud to be part of a larger organization that serves the public interest and has such a long and noble history, but who were basically looking for a decent paycheck, with decent working conditions, doing work they weren't ashamed to tell their grandparents they did, for an employer who wasn't about to outsource to Bangalore or Jakarta.  The overall mission was not their basis for job choice (or even work performance) but simply something nice and appreciated that comes along with the job.

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, and 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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