Older U.S. Federal Employees Use Their Strengths Less
Well-Being

Older U.S. Federal Employees Use Their Strengths Less

by Steve Ander

In other sectors, older workers use their strengths more

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. federal government may not be getting the most out of its oldest employees. U.S. federal government employees aged 65 and older are less likely than those aged 18 to 29 to say they use their strengths at work every day. The opposite is the case in the non-federal sector, in which older workers are more likely than their younger counterparts to report using their strengths at work to do what they do best.

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Approximately 85% of full-time federal government workers aged 18 to 29 say they get to use their strengths at work every day to do what they do best -- this compares with 77% for those aged 65 and older. This finding is flipped for other U.S. workers, with 82% of 18- to 29-year-olds saying they use their strengths compared with 86% of those aged 65 and older.

These findings are based on more than 115,000 interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index from Jan. 2-Dec. 30, 2012, with American adults aged 18 and older who were employed full time, including over 8,000 with those who identified themselves as federal workers.

Federal government workers aged 65 and older not only lag behind their younger government colleagues in using their strengths every day, but also are significantly less likely than non-government workers of the same age to use their strengths at work -- 77% vs. 86%. In total number of employees, approximately 5,400 more of the federal government's oldest workers need to start using their strengths every day to reach the same rate of strengths measured for federal government workers aged 18 to 29, or to match what is seen in the same age cohort in the non-federal sector.

But the federal government can interpret some of these findings as positive. Despite the National Association of Colleges and Employers' reports that the many in the millennial generation might not be interested in working for the federal government, those aged 18 to 29 who do are just as likely as young adults in the non-federal sector to say they get to use their strengths to do what they do best every day at work.

Implications

The federal government could be doing more to help its older workers use their strengths at work. It could structure positions and train supervisors to get the most out of their employees by discovering and maximizing their employees' strengths. Gallup research has shown that if a supervisor focuses on employees' strengths, only 1% of employees are actively disengaged at work. Otherwise, if a manager focuses on weaknesses, 22% on average are actively disengaged. Issues with engagement exist across the federal government, especially at the Department of Homeland Security, and part of this may be because thousands of employees do not get to use their strengths, or perhaps because their managers do not motivate them to do so.

In addition, there are currently over 165,000 60- to 64-year-old full-time government employees -- 10,000 more than was the case in 2009 -- so it follows that in the next few years, the government can expect even more employees to be underutilized at work. When the median annual salary for a federal employee over the age of 65 is between $80,000-89,999, this underutilization may also have significant financial implications.

If the federal government focused on strengths more systematically -- and not just among those aged 65 and older -- the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and all government agencies could experience significant benefits across productivity, absenteeism, and turnover.

At the same time, the fact that younger federal employees are just as likely as those in the private sector to report using their strengths could be a selling point to attract top talent to the government. Many government agencies could heed the lessons of peer agencies -- like NASA and its launch of an internal networking application Spacebook -- that have already begun structuring work that accommodates younger generations for the sake of long-term succession planning.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks wellbeing in the U.S. and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 2-Dec. 30, 2012, with a random sample of 115,476 workers, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of non-federal government full-time employees, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

For results based on the total sample of full-time federal government employees, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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