Money doesn't make feds' world go round

Money talks, but meaningful work is what really matters.

(Editor's note: Linda E. Brooks Rix is co-chief executive officer of Avue Technologies Corp. A detailed list of the salary rankings by agency is available on www.avuetech.com at the "Show me the money" link.) 

I am a Yankees fan — I’ll admit it right off the bat. Most people who don’t like the Yankees are put off by their exceedingly high payroll, which they say constitutes an unfair advantage. Michael Lewis, in his book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” debunks that idea by contrasting the disappointing performance of the Yankees with that of the upstart Oakland A’s, a team with less than half the Yankee’s bloated payroll.

So, when I read about the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Human Capital Survey results and the unrelated ranking of the best places to work by the Partnership for Public Service, I thought: Could there be a correlation between job satisfaction and salary? And how does that translate to organizational effectiveness?

At Avue Technologies, we took the partnership’s small-agency scores and integrated them with the large-agency scores to produce one list. Then we looked up average salaries for each agency. The conclusion: Money talks.

The median salary for the top 20 agencies was $107,329. The median salary for the lower ranking 38 was $87,210. Twenty grand and change — that could make you pretty happy with your employer.

We then looked to see if a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats effect occurred. Indeed it did. If you worked at the Securities and Exchange Commission (No. 19), which has an average salary of $135,099, and you were a mail and file clerk, you’d make $50,000 in round numbers. In contrast, at the Forest Service (No. 41), if you worked fighting wildland fires, you’d make $32,000. I can see how making $18,000 more and keeping your personal injury level to paper cuts and stapler malfunctions could make you pretty happy with your employer.

It’s even more interesting when you compare the same occupations across agencies. For example, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (No. 8) pays its information technology workers an average of $134,796. However, No. 32 (Department of Defense) pays, on average, $80,082 for the same work. In fact, in the IT occupation, the highest-paying agency pays a full 5.4 times more than the lowest.

The two lowest-paying agencies to hit the top 20 in our list provide services to citizens. The Social Security Administration (No. 17) processes entitlements and benefits, and the Veterans Affairs Department (No. 20) provides health care to veterans. VA’s salaries for nurses averaged $76,844, whereas the State Department (No. 13) averaged $90,518. There are other cases in which the contrast is even higher: No. 41 (Department of Agriculture) averages $74,102 for its ecologists, whereas the Environmental Protection Agency (No. 14) pays such professionals $100,132.

Perhaps even more important, the statement that generated the most positive responses was “The work I do is important.” It scored a 90.8 percent positive response from all surveyed. That must help with retention and is likely to be the reason so many federal employees can cope with pay disparity. According to basic motivational theory, meaningful work is the No. 1 motivator for employees.

The theory has also proven true with regard to pay. Although lower pay and benefits can reduce satisfaction with one’s work, higher pay is not an inducement to perform. Instead, the motivation to perform at one’s highest level comes from high job satisfaction. However, low pay can eliminate that incentive.

Although pay disparity discussions have typically focused on a public- vs. private-sector comparisons, internal pay disparity is a far more real problem. For one thing, when salaries are aligned internally, it is easier to compare federal pay to private-sector compensation. Internal alignment also reduces serious issues with poaching between agencies and retention and recruitment overall, whereas pay disparity affects everything from morale to benefits, such as retirement income.

One might well ask if the country is well-served by the pay disparities at agencies. The Office of Management and Budget wants to use the scores as a way to measure progress in workforce management. But, as Lewis wrote in “Moneyball,” team performance and pay are not necessarily correlated. A high-scoring payroll does not necessarily result in high organizational performance. In other words, being highly compensated might increase your satisfaction with your employer even if, as an organization, you’re not winning.

Perhaps it is time to examine how spiraling salaries at a few agencies can fuel significant pay disparities and thus increase the potential for job dissatisfaction elsewhere in the government. And if we are so wedded to the idea of pay for performance, perhaps we should direct it at total agency payrolls and focus on the results achieved, not individual employees' pay.

NEXT STORY: Web 2.0 enables transparency goals

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.