OPM’s latest government-wide federal employee confirms what many federal personnel experts have been saying anecdotally, that large numbers of employees want to retire in the years just ahead.

The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey found that a quarter of respondents plan to retire within the next five years—specifically, 4 percent within one year, another 10 percent in one to three years and another 11 percent in three to five years. That desire in part reflected generally lower morale and job satisfaction in the workforce that OPM attributed to restrictions on pay, training and other employment-related spending in recent years.

That could be an indicator of the long-predicted retirement “wave” that personnel officials have eyed for many years and which has never struck the government with the force they have been predicting. In that context, the results over the next several months are being watched closely.

There always is a surge of retirements around the turn of the calendar year, but the spike around the end of 2012 and 2013, widely reported by some media outlets with little expertise regarding the federal workforce as proof the retirement wave had hit, in actuality reflected the results of early retirement offers at the Postal Service.

Apart from USPS, federal retirements over the last year have been about average for the last eight or so years—and by month actually have been lower than expected by OPM through the middle and later months of 2013. That dropoff has been a main reason that OPM has been able to continue to reduce the backlog of retirement processing.

History also shows that fewer employees actually take retirement than say they will do it. The most recent OPM study of the issue, done in 2008, showed that only 15 percent of employees retire in their first year of eligibility, that more than half of employees are still on the job four years after becoming retirement-eligible and that a quarter are still there nine years after their first eligibility.