Regardless of what generation you come from, the advantages of federal employment are monumental. There are many reasons why Generation X— those born between 1965 and 1980—and Generation Z— those born between 1997 and 2012 should get jobs in the federal sector.
According to the Department of Labor, Gen X made up 41.6% of the federal workforce while Gen Z composed just 1.6% in 2021. That same year, Gen X and Gen Z made up 31.6% and 9.1% of the U.S. labor force, respectively. Millennials have gotten a lot of attention over the years, but Gen X and Z are important to focus on now, as they fill two different roles within the federal government.
Getting the Next Generation in the Federal Door
Gen X civil servants are now entering senior positions and will soon replace the current leaders from the Baby Boomer generation who are retiring in record numbers. Gen Z civil servants are up and coming newcomers to the federal workforce and will eventually replace Gen X, as all previous generations have done since the beginning of time. So what are some factors that have could be keeping the next generation from joining the federal mix? And what are some reasons to find a job with the U.S. federal government?
1. The Great Resignation
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 47 million quit their jobs in 2021 and that trend hasn’t abated. They call this the Great Resignation; the impact on the federal sector was minimal compared to the private sector statistics!
2. Government Shutdowns
Job security often impacts an employee’s decisions to stay or leave their workplace, private or federal. There were several government shutdowns over the past five years and many seeking employment expressed reservations about working in government because of them.
Most in the private sector don’t realize when government supposedly shuts down, essential employees still come to work. Primary functions are maintained and employees pay is restored after the shutdown. Those considered non-essential stay home. However, their full pay for all days off is restored after the shutdown according to the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act. If non-essential you actually receive an extended paid holiday.
What private employer would pay their employees for staying at home while the company is shut done! Not many, if any at all.
Federal employees, especially those from Gen Z, who might live paycheck to paycheck still would have a problem with an extended shutdown. Fortunately, arrangements can be made for late payments with most companies because they know federal employee’s pay will be restored when the shutdown ends.
3. Layoffs in the Federal Sector
In the federal sector, layoffs are called Reductions in Force (RIFs). According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), “Agency human resources staff in consultation with OPM, develop a placement plan for employees in lieu of Reduction in Force (RIF). Various options are available and can include use of the early retirement authority, buyout authority, establishing an internal priority placement program, relocation bonuses, hiring freezes, and other potential alternatives to RIF.”
During my 36 years of federal service, RIFs were few and far between. In all cases early retirement incentives, hiring freezes, and relocations were used to avoid RIF actions and impacted employees retained their employment.
4. Job Security
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) private sector employees are three times more likely to be fired than federal civil service employees. The BLS defines a layoff as “a separation of an employee from an establishment that is initiated by the employer; an involuntary separation; a period of forced unemployment.”
The majority of federal employees are in bargaining units, unions are an influential part of their jobs even if they don’t become union members. When I was still working in the federal sector over 70% of the federal workforce was unionized. This added protection, makes if far more difficult to fire an employee and any changes to working conditions must be negotiated in most cases.
The average federal employee’s salary exceeds $91,570 not counting the latest 2023 4.6% pay increase, which includes locality adjustments. That doesn’t take into account the value of their very generous benefits. With benefits, the average salary hovers around $145,000!
6. Vacation Leave & Paid Holidays
Employees earn 13 vacation days (annual leave) each leave year with less than three years of service, 20 days if they have three years but less than 15 years of service, and 26 days (eight hours per pay period) if they have 15 years or more of service.
Employees can carry over up to 240 hours of annual leave year to year and can receive a lump-sum payment for accumulated and accrued annual leave when they separate from Federal service. If you carry over the full 240 hours and don’t use any annual leave the last year, you will receive a lump-sum payment for 448 hours, a generous amount to use in retirement!
There are 11 paid holidays for federal employees. More than most private sector companies offer. Juneteenth was added in 2021. This leave and holiday excel chart helps federal employees track their leave usage and work schedule.
7. Sick Leave
All employees earn four hours a pay period, 13 days a year of sick leave that accrues without restrictions for a long as you work for the federal government. You can apply any sick leave that you didn’t use while working towards your retirement benefit. When I retired, I had 2150 hours of sick leave on the books that converted to an additional year towards my retirement annuity calculation.
Federal agencies can advance you up to six additional weeks of sick leave to workers that experience major health issues. Plus, other federal employees are allowed to donate some of their sick leave to help you through the crisis.
8. Retirement Plans
Few companies in the private sector offer a generous retirement package such as that offered to federal employees. They have a three-tiered system comprised of a generous fixed annuity based on years of service, an eligible employer plan governed under Internal Revenue Code 401(a) similar to a 401(k) plan, and Social Security.
9. The Federal Employees Retirement (FERs) Plan
The FERS retirement annuity is computed based on your length of service and “high-3” average pay. The high-3 FERS annuity is calculated by adding your highest salary for three consecutive years, then dividing the amount by three. The regular FERS retirement annuity is 1% of your high-3 average pay times years of creditable service. If you retire at age 62 or later with at least 20 years of service, a factor of 1.1% is used.
The FERS annuity for a person who retires with 30 years of service at age 62 and earning the average three year salary of $91,570 would be $30,218. The annuity is adjusted for inflation each year. Federal retirees received an 8.7% COLA increase for 2023! They would also receive Social Security if they elected to take it at that age plus distributions from their 401 (a) retirement account.
There are four retirement options including retirement with as little as 5 years at age 62, 20 years at age 60, 30 years at your Minimum Retirement Age (MRA) or with as little as 10 years at your MRA.
The 401 (a) plan offers a five percent match and current employees can contribute up to $22,500 of their 2023 salary with an additional $7,500 in catch up contributions for those 50 and older.
Work for the Federal Government
Where else can you find high paying, secure, and benefit loaded employment with a generous retirement package? That’s not all, how about having your federal agency pay off up to $60,000 in your student loan debt, plus the potential to negotiate your starting salary and receive a relocation allowance!
When I was 25, in the current age group for Gen Zers, I was at a crossroad in my life. I had two prospects, taking a job with the Federal Aviation Administration or working for an airline. With federal service I could retire at age 55, my military time would count towards retirement, and I would start with four weeks of vacation each year. I took the federal route, and 10 years later the airline I could have worked for went bankrupt. I retired at 55, and the rest is history.
The Gen X group may find the federal benefits and retirement package attractive. If their current employer doesn’t offer a fixed annuity, a 5% retirement contribution match, or the ability to carry your health insurance coverage into retirement, explore federal jobs in your area. You can retire with a fixed annuity with as little as five years work and carry your health care into retirement at a very reasonable cost.
Rewarding opportunities abound and there are thousands of job vacancies nationwide and overseas in hundreds of occupations. Explore and compare them to the private sector jobs you are considering to determine what is best for you and yours.