Federal workers say they don’t have much to celebrate these days.
Furloughs began in April, exacerbating already low morale for many government agencies as budgets have tightened. Downsizing has meant more work for those who remain, and talk of further cuts has many worried about job security. This year is also the third that federal workers haven’t received a pay increase, contributing to discontent.
I feel for the federal workers who have faced increasing workloads and 100% stagnant pay. I am a state worker on year 4 of a pay freeze and it is very demoralizing. The first year or so isn’t too bad, it is easy to understand that the budget needs cut and that as government employees we too will have to bare some of the burden. But after a while it really starts to get to you. After 2 or 3 or 4 years without ANY pay raise you start feeling like your employer simply doesn’t care about you. Freezing pay can’t address the entire budget problem and it can’t be maintained forever. Freezing pay is only a temporary measure not a long term measure.
There are several parts of a pay freeze that really start getting you down. First is watching prices rise over time while your pay is held flat. I have continuously cut my budget at home yet I am no better off than before. I cut cable, then ADT, then food and then and then and then. At a certain point it is hard to cut anymore from your budget. But when it is all done my overall lifestyle has continually declined for 4 years. That really wears on employees because they feel like every day they functionally earn less and less due to inflation.
Second the budget cuts have come with extra work for many. I work in Medicaid forecasting for the state of TX. Our workload has increased dramatically during the recession because Medicaid is a costly program so there is a lot of focus on how to reduce the cost of Medicaid. But each proposal for that needs somebody to calculate the estimated impact for the policy alterations. So that has put tons of extra work me while my pay is stagnant. Other places have cut employees and expect the remaining employees to make up the work. That is possible for a while and in some cases some employees can be trimmed without dumping much work on the remaining employees. But the fact is that people can only do so much. Telling somebody to get more done doesn’t mean that is even possible. So many of us government employees are feeling overworked yet we don’t get the reward of a raise for our hard work.
Third, due to budget cuts many places no longer have money for employee training and improvement. Providing professional enhancement activities like outside training shows employees that they are valuable. Not only are they good enough for the job but additional training shows that they are worth investing in. At my job before the recession we were able to take software training classes and statistics classes through our work. The work paid for the classes and counted the time as work time. That makes an employee feel good about their job and their value to their employer. But when you cut training then employees feel like they aren’t worth investing in, that their employer doesn’t care enough to help them improve professionally and personally.
Fourth the drop in morale hurts morale. When I started I got raises regularly, that demonstrated how valuable I was to my employer. Because my employer was willing to invest in me then I was willing to put my all into my job. When I had extra time at work I used that time to improve my department. I automated files that had been done by hand for years which saved time and improved accuracy. I spent time examining our methodology and implementing improvements. I helped make my department more efficient and more accurate because my employer treated me well. Also I knew that if I continued to improve my department I would continue to get raises. So I was more than willing to invest the time into improving the department. But when it becomes clear that you aren’t valued by your employer then you don’t put in the extra work for them. If your employer doesn’t care about you then why should you care about them? Instead you do your required work and nothing more. There is no point in making improvement when they won’t be recognized.
Fifth pay freezes are hard on employees because it increases attrition and loss of institutional knowledge. When employees don’t feel valued then new employees are more apt to leave sooner. Employee attrition puts strain on the remaining employees. Remaining employees have to pick up the extra work. But also when a replacement is hired the remaining employees have to train the new employee. Training employees is stressful and time consuming, it take two or three times as long to train somebody to do something than just doing it yourself. So you get behind on your work to help somebody else learn their work. That is unneeded stress when morale is already low.
Sixth pay freezes can drive older employees to retire. We have an aging workforce and many of those people have spend decades doing their work. They know their job inside and out. When an old timer leaves then there is a great deal of knowledge and experience lost. If they are pushed out by pay freezes, increased workload and general lack of recognition then they are less apt to spend the time ensuring that their knowledge is passed on. Why would they want to invest all of that effort into training their replacement when they don’t feel like their employer values them? Also in government the knowledge base is esoteric and specialized. I work in Medicaid, to do my job I need to know Medicaid eligibility for TX, federal disability determinations, Medicare Medicaid interactions, current policy, past policy and the politics of the day. You can’t learn that in school, you have to go and live it. That experience is invaluable when performing your job. Yet if you feel pushed out by your employer you aren’t going to transmit much of that on. You will show people how to do the job, not how to truly understand and do the job well. There is a big loss when that happens.
Seventh, when older employees are leaving and younger employees aren’t loyal to their employer then the loss of institutional knowledge is exacerbated. Even if the older employees take the time to fully train and transmit their knowledge on it still may not remain in the department. Since the employer has shown no loyalty to younger employees then younger employees show no loyalty back. So they will take off as soon as they have a better offer or they get sick of the job. That means the institutional knowledge they were passed will not get transmitted to the future. I work with some people who have NEVER gotten a raise at this job yet have held it for almost 4 years. There is no loyalty there. Once the economy picks up many of those employees that feel undervalued are going to move on. And those employees lack loyalty to the employers so they probably won’t spend all the extra time training people to do their job. Instead they will meet the minimum requirements such as 2 weeks notice. This will really hurt government agencies in the future both in terms of institutional knowledge but also in terms of money and resources spent on training new employees.
That leaves government employees feeling undervalued, overworked, inadequately trained and stressed at home about finances. When employees don’t feel cared for then they don’t care about their employer which means they don’t put in extra work to improve their departments. Instead many just do the minimum for their job because their employers is only doing the minimum for them.
PS I am lucky in many ways, I happen to have one of the best direct supervisors a person could ever hope for. I would never want to put my direct supervisor in a bad position. Her loyalty to me has held me through times when I was about ready to walk out. But it can only go so far when I feel undervalued and overworked.