The Dilemma of Job Dissatisfaction in the Government

Good Morning Gov Employees

If I asked you to describe the person (s) in your office who acts out, complains, performs marginally, causes others to pick up the slack, use leave excessively (particularly, when assignments are due), never feel that the task belongs to them, and on and on, does a particular face come to mind? These are all signs of the disengaged, who are on the road to job dissatisfaction.

Federal Agencies (and some state and local) are mandated to access the level of employee satisfaction (conversely, dissatisfaction) annually and to formulate strategies and plans to achieve higher “satisfaction” from one year to another. Recently, researchers have become more interested in what happens to the percentage of employees who rank among the dissatisfied. Some choose to become RWOL, retired without leaving, some become LWOR, leaving (one group for another) without retirning and others just leave.

I am working on a doctoral study on the factors contributing to job dissatisfaction in the federal workplace. I would love to hear your views on the topic. Do the dissatisfied deserve the same level of attention as agencies place on the satisfied? Is it important for leadership to understand the whole person and address the signs of disengagement? Should agencies care about the attrition and turnover that results from disengagement?

When you took the annual survey in your workplace, how did you rate the organization? Were you overall satisfied or dissatisfied?

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Daniel Crystal

From what I’ve seen, the whole ROAD (retired on active duty, term we used in the Army) phenomenon seems to be a generational thing. Some of it is practical: if you’re just starting your career, you are a lot less likely to stay in a job that you don’t like simply because you want tenure. As you approach the twilight of your career, “retirement” becomes the light at the end of the tunnel. Younger workers also tend to have fewer personal obligations anchoring them to one spot, such as college age children or a mortgage.

That being said, I believe the axiom that “you don’t leave your job, you leave your boss” is just as true in the federal government as it is in the private sector. I’ve noticed two trends in the government: promoting successful technical experts, such as engineers, into management, which requires a different skill set which they might not have, and a failure to train leaders and managers until they are actually in a position of authority. Both of these items can be mitigated by identifying high potential employees at the GS 7/9 level, and grooming them for leadership as they move up the ladder.

Now I’m not saying that all engineers make lousy managers, but their

David Kuehn

This is a great topic. I suspect few people do or can come into a position already disengaged. Something happens over their career. This may be reflected in employee surveys when disaggregated by tenure. Newer employees still have their optimism and those with the longest tenure also are more posative towards work, perhaps, because those most turned off have seperated from the agency. While it is the responsibility of employees to manage their own careers, the agency and supervisors have a responsibility to look for and respond to behaviors that suggest disengagement. One of the grestest failures of leadership is to allow people to remain disengaged. Once the behavior is established it is very difficult to change.

denise lofton

HI Jacque

Thanks for the great reference. Acting out and on fears and disappointment has always been a high risk for agencies. After Arizona, even more attention and effort must be made to identify behaviors.

denise lofton

Hi Daniel

Recognizing that technical experts may not have requisite skills to lead people is a critical skill, especially with the new generation of techno savvy employees, who neither need or want someone standing over them. Its not just the younger employees either; the government is the new post-retirement career job of choice and these people are use to being the leader, not the follower.

Daniel Crystal

@ Denise: I’ve found that senior technical employees are often better utilized as subject matter experts (SMEs) and mentors for junior employees. It doesn’t give them authority, but it does give them a voice on projects, especially if they’re incorporated into IPT’s or working groups. Mentoring junior employees can help alleviate the “I’m used to being in charge” syndrome, since mentees generally look up to the people that are mentoring them and will defer to their judgment.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Denise – Great topic! Have you looked at the effect of organizational change efforts on worker dissatisfaction? I did my dissertation on organizational change and have some good resources on the harmful effects of change if you would be interested.

denise lofton

Hi Bill

Sounds like a very relevant topic. I would particularly be interested in recent references that link dissatisfaction with a failure to effect change. The whole arena of job dissatisfaction has seemingly come out of nowhere, yet we know that the high interest is because in a bad ecomony, leaders pay more attention to the people they have, Not sure if or when they can be replaced, you work harder to keep them.