Is There Life after Government?

Career planning often is compared to a journey, since it can take a long time and take you down some unexpected detours along the way. One difference, though, is that journeys have a specific destination in mind, where that is not always the case with career planning.

One good lesson in this can be found in a report from OPM last year based on exit surveys of more than 200 SES members who left their positions over a recent period spanning about a year. The aim of the survey was to get a better perspective on why those people leave their federal jobs, what might have changed their minds, and what they expect to do afterward.

Among that population, more than half were retiring, about a tenth were resigning, another tenth were transferring to another agency and the rest were leaving for various other reasons.

Of that entire group, including those retiring, only about a fifth did not expect to continue working for pay. Another fifth were undecided, while the rest said they definitely would continue to work or at least will look for employment. Of that latter group, seven-tenths said they would be working full-time, the rest part-time.

So, retirement does not necessarily mean “not working for pay anymore.” To many of them, retirement meant “getting away from this job.”

Indeed, when asked what could have motivated them to stay, 28 percent flatly said that nothing would have changed their mind—not even higher pay, better work-life balance or a number of other enticements that could have been offered to them.

Where does a post-federal career lead? According to those continuing to work, most commonly it would be with a private company that is not a government contractor, then self employment, then work with a nonprofit. Working for a government contractor—often considered the most likely next step after leaving the government—was in the cards for just 8 percent.

And does a post-federal career mean a raise? For six-tenths, there was that expectation. A quarter expected their pay to drop—probably that represents primarily those expecting to switch to part-time work—and the rest thought it would remain the same.

Seeking a higher salary is a clear motivation to leave the government. Dissatisfaction with pay indeed was one of the top reasons people said they are leaving, along with the related issue of having a more attractive job offer elsewhere and dissatisfaction with compensation in general, including awards and benefits.

A follow-up survey asking these same people if their post-government expectations were met would be valuable. They could be finding that the grass really isn’t greener. Or they could be finding that the result exceeded their hopes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that any such follow-up is in the works.

But these people likely are more or less your colleagues—if not in job type, then probably roughly in age and years of service with the government. Time reflecting on your expectations of post-government life would be well spent.