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Life in Congress: Job Satisfaction and Engagement of House and Senate Staff

life-in-congress-job-satisfaction-engagement-coverThe Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) initiated the "Life in Congress" research series to closely examine the work demands, work/life challenges and satisfaction levels of Members of Congress and their staffs.

The third report of the series, "Life in Congress: Job Satisfaction and Engagement of House and Senate Staff," reveals what congressional staff value most about their workplace and is based on a survey of more than 1,400 staffers from the House and Senate, from both political parties, and from the Washington, D.C., and district/state offices. Additionally, researchers compared congressional staff survey results to data collected by SHRM on U.S. employees, which included various industries and organization sizes.

Our research indicates that despite the challenges of congressional employment, such as long hours, lower pay than their private sector and executive branch counterparts, and virtually no job security, staff remain generally satisfied with, and are engaged in, their jobs. Staff repeatedly cite their dedication to public service and the meaningfulness of their work. However, the research also raises questions as to whether these altruistic motives are enough to overcome the inherent challenges to working in Congress.

Key Findings:

Job Satisfaction

  • Overall Satisfaction Level. This research found that 80% of congressional staff reported overall satisfaction with their current jobs, including 40% who are very satisfied. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of congressional staff also indicated overall satisfaction with their current offices, including 44% who are very satisfied.
  • Job Aspects Most Important to Congressional Staff. Of the aspects that congressional staff rated as most important to their job satisfaction, most related to their work environment and the value and meaning they find in their work. The percentage of respondents who rated those work aspects as "very important" are noted as follows:
    • Overall office culture (79%);
    • Meaningfulness of their jobs (75%);
    • The work itself (75%);
    • Opportunities to use their skills and abilities in their work (72%);
    • Communication between employees and senior management (70%);
    • Vision and goals of the Senator or Representative (70%); and
    • The contribution their work has on the overall goals of the office (70%).
  • Satisfaction Levels Compared to What Is Important to Staff. Congressional staff were generally satisfied with these job aspects as well, with at least half of respondents indicating they were "somewhat satisfied" or "very satisfied" with these factors. However, further scrutiny of the staffers who were very satisfiedwith these aspects shows that considerable gaps existed between importance and satisfaction. (The greater the gaps, the more indication that congressional offices should focus on improving these areas.) In particular, the largest gaps were for:
    • Communication between employees and senior management (i.e., Chief of Staff, District/State Director, Legislative Director) (70% very important, 22% very satisfied);
    • Opportunities to use your skills and abilities in your work (72% very important, 32% very satisfied);
    • Overall office culture (79% very important, 41% very satisfied);
    • The work itself (75% very important, 37% very satisfied);
    • The contribution your work has on the overall goals of the office (70% very important, 34% very satisfied); and
    • Meaningfulness of job (75% very important, 43% very satisfied).

Employee Engagement

  • Employee Engagement. Employee engagement differs from job satisfaction in that it relates to employees' connection and commitment to their work and organization—what and who is motivating employees to work harder. The top aspects contributing to congressional staff engagement were:
    • 97% of congressional staff agreed that they are determined to accomplish their work goals and confident they can meet them.
    • 86% said that they are highly motivated by their work goals.
    • 83% reported that they enjoy taking on or seeking out new projects or work assignments beyond their job requirements.
    • 81% agreed their work gives them a sense of personal accomplishment.
    • 80% said that their offices never give up.
    • 79% agreed they have passion and excitement about their work.
    • 75% reported that, in their offices, employees are encouraged to be proactive in their work.
    • 74% considered their colleagues adaptive to challenging or crisis situations.
  • Congressional Staff Engagement Compared to Broader U.S. Workforce. When compared to U.S. employees, a much higher percentage of congressional staff responded that they strongly agreewith many of the engagement opinion statements, especially those regarding their work goals:
    • 63% of congressional staff strongly agreed that they are determined to accomplish their work goals and confident they can meet them, compared to 34% of U.S. employees.
    • 51% of congressional staff strongly agreed that they are highly motivated by their work goals, compared to 25% of U.S. employees.

Retention and Turnover

  • Turnover Potential. Although congressional staff reported being generally satisfied with and engaged in their jobs, when employees were asked whether they would, by choice, look for a job outside of their current office in the next 12 months, almost half (46%) of congressional staff were likely or very likely to do so.
  • Turnover Potential Breakdowns. When breaking out responses by location, stark differences emerge, with almost two-thirds (63%) of Washington, D.C., staff indicating they would look for new jobs, compared to about one-third (36%) of district/state staff. When U.S. employees were asked this question, 37% responded that they were likely or very likely to seek new employment.
  • Retention Factors. When congressional staff were asked why they stay in their jobs, their top reasons largely related to the value of the work they do:
    • 94% of congressional staff said they stay because they believe what they’re doing is meaningful.
    • 92% cited their desire to help people.
    • 91% reported that they get a sense of accomplishment from their work.
    • 90% said they stay out of dedication to public service.
    • 90% responded that they enjoy working for their Representative or Senator and with their colleagues.
    • 72% reported that their benefits influence their decision to stay, but only 38% said compensation was a significant factor.
  • Compensation Not Critical Factor in Congressional Staff Retention or Job Satisfaction. Compensation was not a significant factor in congressional staff's decision to stay in their jobs, nor did they consider it as important to their job satisfaction relative to the other factors surveyed. Overall compensation/pay ranked 22nd in importance of the 43 aspects considered by congressional staff.
  • Compensation is Main Reason Congressional Staff Leave Employment. Though compensation plays a limited role in congressional staff's decision to stay where they are, it was the top reason cited in their decision to leaveemployment:
    • 51% of congressional staff cited the desire to earn more money as a significant factor in their decision to leave their current job or office.
    • 45% of congressional staff also said increasing their income was a significant factor in their decision to leave Congress altogether.
  • Other Reasons Why Congressional Staff Quit their Current Jobs or Offices. Other top reasons congressional staff had for leaving their current job or current office included:
    • Inadequate opportunities for professional development (48%);
    • Frustrations with the management of your office (48%);
    • Desire for a job that will make better use of your skills and abilities (47%); and
    • Unsatisfactory relationship with supervisor(s) (47%).
  • Why Congressional Staff Quit Working in Congress. As for leaving Congress altogether, in addition to the desire to earn more money, staffers also cite the following factors:
    • Desire to pursue a different type of work (42%);
    • To seek a better balance between your work and your personal life (38%);
    • Disillusionment with the political process (36%); and
    • To obtain private sector experience (33%).