To Stay or to Leave Federal Government?

It’s something every federal government worker has likely contemplated: “Should I stay with the government or try the private sector?”  The answer, of course, will vary based on your skillset, experience and short and long-term goals. Fundamentally, though, there are common areas of consideration.

The benefits of federal employment are practically unmatched

If you ask any federal worker the biggest benefit of being employed with the government, at the top of the list is surely the insurance and retirement package. Most federal employees and financial analysts recognize that the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is one of best retirement plans available. This is a major reason many workers are hesitant to leave the government and enter the private sector.  The exception is the worker who has the years in to qualify for an “early out” as a part of the Voluntary Early Retirement/ Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments program.

Many of those workers are still young and ambitious enough to want to work and can afford to try out the private sector, while still having the benefit of their federal retirement. A sweet deal! However, it is one that is not everyone’s reality.

For the federal worker who does not have that option, leaving the government can be a difficult decision. You have to consider your skillset. You could leave the federal government and command a higher salary, but what of the job security? Does the relative job security of the government provide more long-term benefits than higher salary in the private sector? For those in certain fields, this would not be as difficult a decision because their skillset is in high demand. IT is an example. Even with the incentives offered to those in government with specialized skills, such as higher salaries, it is unlikely they will match those of the private sector. Thus, other variables must be taken into consideration, such as continuing education. Is the private sector job going to cover this cost over what the federal government would?

Playing it safe vs. taking the leap

Having relative — but certainly not always guaranteed — job security is another major consideration. Being relatively certain that your job will be intact years ahead provides more opportunity for taking financial risks than does having to consider if your job will even be around in the years ahead, which is a reality in the fast-paced private sector. To be clear, there is never an excuse to be reckless with investments but having somewhat of a safety net allows for more opportunity to explore other ways to increase capital.

For instance, having the “G-Fund” as a safety net allows a federal worker (who is not near retirement) to be more ambitious in the stock market than someone in the private sector. This is because their retirement package does not necessarily offer that security to take risks in the stock market (given one is not substantially close to retirement).

And what of the worker with the entrepreneurial spirit? On one hand, it seems it would be ideal to have a cushy federal government job as a safety net and strike out on your own on with a side business. However, would you get as much out of it with just one foot in? Wouldn’t your business have more of a chance at success if you jumped in with both feet? After all, the bigger the risk, the greater the reward.

Consider, “How badly do I desire to work for myself? Can I adapt to a lifestyle of total self-reliance? How viable is my potential business? Can it sustain me long-term?” And what if your entrepreneurial effort, unfortunately, does not work and you subsequently desire to re-enter the federal workforce? Given a large number of applicants, it is not always easy to re-enter the federal government once you have left, so it is important to ensure you have a solid plan to sustain you on the outside.

Ultimately, only you will know what fits you

Financial planners may tell you to play it safe. Your family might tell you to play it safe. But can you? Is your federal career not moving fast enough? Could you benefit from shaking things up? Are you being fearful or cautious? Do you think you have the idea that could birth great success without the confines of the federal safety net?

On the flip side, the real world is a crapshoot; there are no guarantees. Many would love to have the federal job you currently hold. Are you doing all you can to maximize success where you are, taking advantage of the many benefits afforded to you such as tuition assistance or leadership training? Do you take pride in being a public servant?

These are all questions to consider before deciding to stay or leave the government and only you will know what will work best for your future.  Good luck!

This related reading may help you decide:

Federal Retirement Benefits Continue to Beat the Private Sector Plan

7 Ways Government Employees Differ From Private-Sector Employees

Tamara Key is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Chad Jimmerson

I would definitely stay working with the federal government due to financial stability & retirement packages. You can always run a side business & delegate the duties to your GM but then again you already get a ridiculous government salary. We talk about this and more about gov funding into the telescope pushed back until 2021 amazon buying pill pack price fixing e commerce which is illegal the government needs to cap their reach and acquisitions. Anyway check us out: http://www.EnspearComputerSolutions.com/blog

Rosanne Douglas

Nice article, Tamara. I think a lot depends on individual risk tolerance, as well as whether or not you have a spouse with a stable job. Would be interesting to see hear about some specific examples from people that have left their government jobs and either loved it or regretted it.

Avatar photo Blake Martin

Great piece, Tamara! And agree with Rosanne about specific examples; it’d be great to see these must-consider questions in motion or after.