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Life in Congress: The Member Perspective

life-in-congress-the-member-perspective-coverThe Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) partnered to conduct a study about the work-life of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives. “Life in Congress: The Member Perspective,” is the first research to focus on the Members’ viewpoint of their daily activities, challenges, and motivations, and is based on questionnaires of 25 Members of Congress (and corroborated by other research and work conducted by CMF).

Key Findings:

Members focus most of their time on legislative/policy work and on constituent services—not political activities.

  • When in Washington, D.C., Members reported spending their time as follows:
    • 35% on “Legislative/Policy Work”
    • 17% on “Constituent Services Work”
    • 17% on “Political/Campaign Work”
    • 9% on “Press/Media Relations”
    • 9% with “Family/Friends”
    • 7% on “Administrative/Managerial Work”
    • 6% on “Personal Time”
  • When in their congressional districts, Members reported spending their time as follows:
    • 32% on “Constituent Services Work”
    • 18% on “Political/Campaign Work”
    • 14% on “Press/Media Relations”
    • 12% on “Legislative/Policy Work”
    • 9% with “Family/Friends”
    • 8% on “Personal Time”
    • 7% on “Administrative/Managerial Work”

Members work long hours whether the House chamber is in session or not.

  • When asked about their hours in a typical seven-day week, Members report that they work on average 70 hours per week while the House of Representatives in session, and 59 hours per week when their chamber is out of session.
  • When the House is out of session and not voting, or when the House has scheduled “district/constituent work periods” (otherwise known as “recess”), the majority of Members return to their districts. In this study, 78% of Members report spending more than 40 weekends each year in their district.

Members describe themselves as highly committed to their work and find great satisfaction in their jobs.

  • Members rated “Staying in touch with constituents” as being the job aspect most critical to their effectiveness, with 95% rating it as very important. Overall, 85% of Members were satisfied with this aspect of their jobs.
  • Additionally, a majority of Members rated the following aspects highly in importance and in satisfaction:
    • “Feeling that you are performing an important public service” (84% very important, 89% satisfied);
    • “Feeling invested in the work you are doing” (84% very important, 89% satisfied); and
    • “Understanding how your job contributes to society as a whole” (75% very important, 90% satisfied).
  • When asked to respond to, “My work gives me a sense of personal accomplishment,” 95% of Members agreed or strongly agreed.
  • When asked about their staff’s performance, a clear majority of Members responded positively, and not a single Member disagreed or strongly disagreed with the following statements:
    • “My staff clearly understands and is motivated by what I am trying to accomplish” (95% agreed or strongly agreed);
    • “My staff is good at keeping focused on my goals and priorities” (89% agreed or strongly agreed); and
    • “My staff provides sufficient support to help me effectively do my job” (89% agreed or strongly agreed).

Members are generally accepting of the personal sacrifices they make for their jobs.

  • Regardless of whether they are in Washington, D.C., or in their congressional districts, House Members spend the majority (83%-85%) of their time working. Members spend only 15%-17% of their time on their personal lives (with friends or families and on personal activities).
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 (86%) Members feel they spend too little time with family and friends and too little time on other personal activities. However, a majority of Members (83%) also report that their families are supportive of their congressional work.
  • While 68% of Members cited “Spending time with family” as very important, only 16% were satisfied with this aspect—giving it the lowest satisfaction rating among all 25 job aspects studied. Thirty-two percent of Members were dissatisfied with this aspect, while more than half (53%) answered “neutral” to this question.