There’s something that has fueled a lot of writing on my blog.
At it’s core, the blog is about helping federal employees understand their benefits and save money so that they can leave their job on their own terms.
But a lot of posts, like the ones about deferred retirement and early retirement for federal employees never really address the elephant if the room.
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Table of Contents:
- What’s at stake: Why you might regret leaving federal government
- Why do people leave federal jobs?
- My totally informal poll of 25,000 employees about whether they regret leaving federal government
- Why people regret leaving federal government
- Why people don’t regret leaving federal government
- How can you make sure you don’t regret leaving federal government?
Please do not confuse my personal blog for financial advice, tax advice or an official position of the U.S. Government. This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on a link, I get a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you.
What’s at stake: Why you might regret leaving federal government
Let’s start with easiest part of this question to answer: what benefits do you lose when you leave the federal government.
In one of my first blog posts ever, I ran some calculations and figured out that I’d lose over a million dollar in benefits if I left government just one day before my minimum retirement age. How did I get that number:
- Federal retirees can take their federal health insurance into retirement with them and continue paying the heavily discounted employee rate (vs. the full premium).
- Since I will have 30 years of service at my MRA, I am eligible for a FERS supplement from the time I retire until I can start withdrawing social security.
- With a deferred retirement, my FERS annuity would be reduced (unless I waited until age 60 to collect it, since I’d have 20 years of service).
Inflation only makes things worse…
Quitting just one day earlier has a huge impact on your federal retirement benefits.
But leaving a decade before retirement can have an even bigger impact. Since your FERS annuity is calculated based upon your “high 3” years of salary, this number gets frozen when you quit. However, inflation means that prices keep going up until you’re eligible to start drawing your pension (sometime between age 57-62).
Therefore, the younger you are when you quit federal government, the less your federal pension will matter in retirement. Not only will inflation take a bigger chunk out of the spending power of your pension, but your starting pension will be smaller because you will have had less years of service to contribute to your pension.
Why do people leave federal jobs?
People leave federal jobs for the same reasons they leave any other job.
- They are frustrated. With their supervisor, with their workload, with their pay, or with some other aspect of their job.
- They get a better offer. That is, they leave for a job with better pay, better hours, or work that excites them.
- They are forced to quit; to relocate with a spouse, to take care of an aging parent, or for some other reason.
- Finally, they could be terminated involuntarily or choose to retire.
In general though, people who might regret leaving federal government fall into two camps. There’s people that ran from a bad situation and people that ran towards a seemingly better offer.
Not only was I curious about whether people regretted leaving their federal jobs, I was also curious about whether there were differences in regret among people that “ran from” and those that “ran towards”.
My totally informal poll of 25,000 employees about whether they regret leaving federal government
I could write all I wanted to about whether you might regret leaving a federal job. But that would be kind of an academic article. Instead, I wanted actual stories about whether people regretted quitting their federal jobs.
So, I decided to ask the largest group of federal employees I know- the FedFam Facebook group. With nearly 26,000 group members, it’s a great place to ask questions about life in the federal government and help other federal employees navigate the system.
Of course, not all FedFam members quit a federal job. So the title of this post is a little misleading. (But it’s probably not the most misleading article title you’ve clicked on in your life either.
So I asked if people wanted to share stories about whether people regret leaving federal government.
I was lucky enough to get 98 replies. In fact, this thread was quite active on the FedFam community for a few days.
Here are the rough results:
- 6 people resigned and regret leaving federal government
- 9 people resigned and were happy they did so
- 15 people resigned and were neutral about their decision. Many of these people either returned to the government or had multiple stints of both public and private sector jobs.
- 68 people “answered” the question by giving me unsolicited advice
So if we ignore the large percentage of people that didn’t resign their job, we can see that less than 1/3rd of feds who resigned regret leaving federal government.
Why people regret leaving federal government
This was by far the saddest part of writing this post.
Some people left government for a higher paying private sector job only to be laid off a short time later when a recession hit. Perhaps federal employees are especially prone to this type of regret. Private employers offer the biggest incentives near the top of the business cycle when the economy is hot and workers are scarce. However, private sector employers are much more likely to slash jobs when the economy cools.
Other employees didn’t regret leaving federal government because they immediately got laid off in the private sector but instead because they are now at retirement age and mourning the loss of their pension or health insurance benefits.
Finally, some people found the pay and benefits that the private sector advertises weren’t what they were cracked up to be. They found they made less money and had a worse work environment when they switched to the private sector.
Why people don’t regret leaving federal government
Each of the roughly 2/3rds of people who left the federal government without regrets have a different perspective.
In general, the happiest people moved to jobs that were a better fit of them or had better compensation. Some people state that they were happy to get away from toxic work environments. But others were just happy to go somewhere where the compensation and 5-figure bonuses in the private sector could help them live the lives they wanted to live.
And it can’t be overstated that many people in this group came back to the government. Some people they tried the private sector and found that it wasn’t a good fit so they came back to the government. These people didn’t necessarily regret leaving, or coming back.
How can you make sure you don’t regret leaving federal government?
If you have got this far into the post, I think it’s safe to assume that you’re considering leaving the federal government and are trying to decide if you might regret it.
Of course reading other people’s stories can’t help you decide whether or not you’d regret leaving federal government. BUT I think there are some overarching takeaways that can help you make sure you won’t regret your decision.
Be mentally prepared to be laid off 6 months into your new job.
Unlike the cushy confines of tenured federal service, nothing is guaranteed in the private sector. While you might be leaving your job for your “dream job” in the private sector, just make sure you’re emotionally and financially prepared for it not to work out.
By preparing for the worst, you’ll be set for whatever happens.
Know that your decision isn’t final.
Many people in the survey flip-flopped between the private sector and public jobs. That may be easier for some job series and geographical locations than others. But the key point is to know that if you do leave, you may qualify for reinstatement rights. Furthermore, your pension will continue to grow upon your return.
Quit towards a new opportunity.
Although I was curious if there were differences in regret between people who left because they had a poor work environment vs. left for a great new job, I couldn’t really find any trends.
However, if the reason you want to quit your job is the work environment, there are plenty of other federal agencies, each of which has a completely unique work environment. If you like serving the American public in your job but need a change of scenery, you might be happiest with a different federal job.
Regret can sometimes be a useful emotion.
Even if you are 100% mentally prepared to leave and are leaving for the right reasons, there may be days you regret your decision.
Know that all regret is based on an assumption of how things would have turned our in an alternative reality. If you find yourself with deep regrets about your decision, you may wish to speak with a mental health professional to help you work through why you are experiencing regret. You may find that you are comparing your current situation to a situation that could have never existed.
I think it’s also important to realize that regret can serve a useful purpose in our lives. Regret can help us identify behaviors or decisions that we don’t want to repeat in the future. If you regret leaving federal government, perhaps you can use this regret to fuel future action and decisions.
Hopefully, this post helped you walk through a checklist to mentally work through whether you might regret leaving federal government.
I tried to cover everything I thought could affect whether you regret leaving federal government. But if I missed something, please drop me a note in my Facebook Community for federal employees.
SamSam i.e. "Gov Worker" started working for the government at age 18 and loved it so much that he never left. He started GovernmentWorkerFI in 2019 to help fellow federal employees understand their benefits, take control of their finances, and live their best lives.
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