Senior Executive candidates worry about pay, work/family balance

Survey respondents say difference in pay between a GS-14/15 position and its SES equivalent often is not worth the increased workload, responsibility or risk

Many of the employees in the pool of potential Senior Executive Service candidates expressed reluctance about applying for SES positions because of concerns about pay and the ability to maintain a healthy balance between home and work responsibilities, according to a report drawn from the results of a survey of almost 12,000 GS-14s and GS-15s.

The Senior Executives Association, in partnership with Avue Technologies Corp., conducted the survey to follow up on anecdotal reports that qualified employees did not aspire to serve in career SES or equivalent positions.

The most significant hurdles identified by survey respondents were:

  • The potential negative impact on the balance of work and family responsibilities.
  • The possibility of being reassigned or transferred geographically.
  • The complexity of the application process.

The report also noted that although pay was not a top factor that argued for or against SES service, numerous respondents expressed the sentiment that the difference in pay between a GS-14/15 position and an SES or equivalent position often is not worth the increased workload, responsibility and risk.

Chief Human Capital Officers Council members who responded to a related SEA questionnaire said the top hurdle for SES recruitment was the complexity of the application process, the association said.

The report recommended that the Office of Personnel Management and agency leaders develop additional ways for potential candidates to obtain developmental experiences—including experiences within their current geographic areas—rather than require those individuals to relocate for extended periods. Agencies also should establish performance expectations for SES and senior professional employees that meet agencies' missions, and they should recognize the importance of maintaining a healthy work/life balance, the report states.

“The career executive corps is critical to high-performing government and key to implementing any administration’s political and management agenda,” SEA President Carol Bonosaro said. “We must continue to attract the best and the brightest to these positions, but this report demonstrates that the detractors to serving are substantial.”

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Reader comments

Thu, Jun 24, 2010 Mike Washington DC

As a "topped out" GS-15 step XX, career fed, the incentive for converting to an SES position seems to be more a status/power issue as opposed to a money driver since the salary differential is only about $5 to 10K. From what I have seen working in 3 federal agencies, (DOD, DOC, DHS) over the years, the small salary increase does not compensate the huge impact on sacrifices to your personal life. This disparity combined with higher stress and chance of being uprooted/relocated negates the appeal. I also agree that the application process (different from agency to agency, Egads!) is very painful and should be standardized and streamlined. While a direct comparison cannot be made between fed and private executives, I suspect in most large private sector corporations, "executives" earn considerably more than the "rank and file" employees while assuming comparable executive responsibilities as their federal counterparts. What is the real incentive after one has already given years of service to her/his country?

Mon, May 3, 2010 Richard del Hierro Albuquerque, NM

I get kind of get frustrated with articles like this because like our public servants, you did not get into this position to become filthy rich, and to be honest, should not. You have to remember that for the most part you probably joined because of how unstable the civilian positions had come and were kind of worried that this would get you by. If you see the need to leave because the salary is not comparible to the commercial world, then leave and let some up and coming person be next in line. In the 90s there was a need to get closer to the commercial world in salaries but in today's government process and people wanting to come into the government, and GREAT people as well, the government is where people want to be. I say, you want to leave, leave. Sorry but this is the verdict from most employees that I talk with concerning this subject.

Wed, Apr 28, 2010

I'm in the private sector, and I can tell you at the private sector job level equivalent to that of GS-15 or SES, the demands are worse than I have ever seen them in 24 years for sacrifice for family and personal time, and the money is coming down too. I think what this boils down to is if you're willing to work harder or not, and the reward you get from that hard work. If running an agency division is what you want to be able to say you did, great the work is worth it but if you place a higher value on coaching your kid's softball team then find a nice quiet individual contributor role and stay put. It's really personal preference.

Wed, Apr 28, 2010 Blondie

They do make a lot of money and their jobs are relatively stable. In 25+ years working for four different agencies, I've never seen one canned although a couple needed to be. They are just moved along and they become someone else's problem. But compared ot their counterparts in private are over-compensated for being industry, the compensation isn't even close. But I would also argue some of the "bobbleheads" in private industry bobbleheads.

Wed, Apr 28, 2010 oracle2world

How about [any occupation fill-in-the-blank] worry about pay, work/family balance? And where can I get a job doing surveys that kind of restate the obvious? Interesting that pay is not the top issue. Similar to everything I've ever read or studied over the years that pay is just not the prime motivator that managers want it to be.

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