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Federal Government Employees are Lazy

July 8, 2011

And I know because I was one. Now, one might say that incendiary comments such as this are a bad idea, especially for a blog with a significant readership that happens to work for the federal government. But I’ve never been one to shy away from shameless generalizations. I caveat that not all government employees are lazy. Perhaps not even a majority (that can be argued), but the federal government process – of promotions, advancement, and rewards, doesn’t exactly engender top performance. You can’t completely blame the employees – in the face of a federal hiring freeze, pay caps, and management that doesn’t always deal well with its staff, the incentives to coming into work ready to rock and roll aren’t exactly high.

Another key issue is the fact that you’re often faced with non-stellar employees a cubicle away. Federal Times reports that 11,275 federal employees were fired in FY 2009, out of 2.5 million people. That’s not a lot, and it’s argued many of those firings came out of probationary periods, they weren’t the result of management reviews or disciplinary actions. And just like they say that your friends make you fat, I’ll argue that your co-workers make you lazy.

Most of us work in teams. Regardless of how they’re structured, the ability to do our jobs depends to some extent on how others are doing their jobs. And while any team can drag around dead weight for a time, it doesn’t take long before everyone sinks a little. Judged from the outside, our negative nature generally gravitates toward the dead weight rather than focusing on the shining stars. So even in a federal workforce filled with high performers, with a few too many bad eggs still in the basket, the outside view is that all federal employees are lazy.

I note that I’m a recovering government employee, and just like blonde jokes come across better when told by a blonde than a brunette, making tongue-in-cheek accusations about government employees read better when I actually was one. So, from the outside looking in, I feel your pain, I love your work – I just think federal managers need to fire more people. A lot more people. Once that happens, we’ll notice the cream of the crop and the quality of everyone’s work will improve.

We’re creatures created to love rewards and recognition. A federal workforce that embraced that reality and rewarded the good by weeding out the bad would be well on its way to creating the kind of federal workforce we need more than ever today.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2011 4:31 pm

    Now, now, Lindy … You could write THAT commentary about any professional group on the planet – lawyers, doctors, reporters, bartenders, webmasters, PAOs, even Soldiers. How are feds REALLY any different?

    • July 8, 2011 4:55 pm

      I’d argue that the one thing that sets federal employees apart from the other professionals you mentioned is the increased propensity for laziness…and the relative inability to get fired. If you’re a bartender, mess up one drink bad enough for the wrong person and your job could be on the line. I’m not saying that’s good practice (employees learn through mistakes), but the risk is certainly compelling. I’ve always said the lack of incentive for top performers is a big gap in federal government. Even Soldiers sit before promotion boards regularly and what’s on the line for them is significant – and worth performing for and working hard toward. If you’re a federal employee, when is the last time you faced a performance review that really made a difference?

  2. Iris permalink
    November 10, 2011 8:21 pm

    A way to solve this problem (in dealing with underperforming employees) is to hold them accountable. Managers should be more proactive in evaluating the employees. If they can’t meet standards, then give them a fail (put them on probations) instead of pass and withold their step increases or within grade promotions. Yes, it’s true that there is a huge lack of incentives for the top performers. I’ve been a civil servant in the last 8 years. I consider myself a cream of the crop. I value my work and my goal is to be productive and efficient. That’s why I’ve pursued my master’s degree and I continue to take training that will enhance the quality of work that I produce. With my education, experience and skills, I could make at least 25% more in the private sector, but I am patriot and value working for the country.

    Yes, I do agree that there is very little incentives (rewards) for the high performers to continue operating at a highly competent level, but again, this is another fault of the managers. They must recognized the great work of those who provides the most contribution even if the monetary rewards are minimal, but at least the recognition for great work should be sufficient. Also, management must continue to provide the resources for employees to do their job successfully. A recent study found that progress in work is the number one motivating factor more than awards and other incentives. Therefore, along with awards, management must provide the right tools so employees can do the work.

    I’m upset regarding the negative reputation of government employees – overpaid, incompetent and lazy. This certainly doesn’t apply to everyone. I’m sure the percentage of lazy bums of the government are comparable to the private sectors. I’ve worked in the private sector so I can attest to this.

  3. yolanda permalink
    May 3, 2012 11:16 am

    Worked at the XXX under a manager who favored her contractors more than her federal employees. I was naive to think that if I worked harder/longer, my work would be recognized.
    Instead, I was criticized by higher GS grades for making them look bad. Long story short, I got my tution reimbursement, skipped my going away luncheon, and got the hell out of there!!
    Heard later that my manager asked, “Anyone know how xxx is doing?”” What a joke.

  4. Faith permalink
    July 11, 2012 12:34 pm

    I think that is a ridiculous statement. I’m licensed practical nurse that works for the federal government at a veterans hospital and I always do the best I can to get the job done. I worked at a private hospital before I came to the veteran’s hospital. There are lazy and hard workers in the private and the public sector. It’s that way at every job I’ve had throughout my life. There are lazy people everywhere. It’s not fair to say that all federal employees are lazy. The lazy people in federal job positions were probably lazy at the jobs they had before. I think my federal job actually pushes me to do and be more and accomplish more. My private sector job just wanted a body there to work , take on too many patients at a time, work extra , and be underpaid. They didn’t push me to advance. The veteran’s hospital actually highly encourages education.

  5. Chris permalink
    November 30, 2012 6:31 pm

    Spot on. Generalization, yes. Correct, also unfortunately yes.
    I’ve been living the life of the overworked contractor for a few years while watching my federal compatriots live the high life for doing very little of consequence.
    I can be fired any day but they cannot be touched for the most egregious behaviours.
    I’m trying not to be bitter but they are too often the epitome of the lazy federal worker.

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