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Survey Details Challenges, Upsides for Capitol Hill Staff

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
In an interview transcript included in a report released today, Susan Wheeler, chief of staff for Sen. Mike Crapo, indicated that the Idaho Republican's office tries to allow staffers flexibility in their schedules.

Congressional staffers care deeply about their jobs, but they don’t enjoy the long hours, endless workflow and the toll it takes on their personal lives.

That’s the conclusion, in a nutshell, of a report jointly released today by the Congressional Management Foundation and the Society for Human Resource Management.

“Life in Congress: Aligning Work and Life in the U.S. House and Senate” offers a quantitative glimpse into a reality with which Capitol Hill veterans might already be intimately familiar: working in the personal office of a lawmaker in the House or Senate can be grueling.

These findings weren’t especially surprising, CMF Executive Director Brad Fitch said. The last study the CMF conducted on Congressional staffers’ work-life balance yielded similar results that didn’t bode well for recruitment and retention. And there’s no correlation between the findings in this new report and the developments in recent years, such as increased political gridlock or sharp budget cuts across the legislative branch, that could appear to be making matters worse for Congressional aides.

“We’re starting to see a turn on Capitol Hill,” Fitch said. “For example, more people are allowed to make telework arrangements and technology exists for employees to work from home.”

But this report, he continued, is similar to the previous studies: “Congress is a difficult place, with an expectation that you have to always be at your desk. ... Nothing’s really changed.”

The 38-page report draws from responses given by 1,432 employees in House and Senate personal offices in Washington, D.C., and in Members’ districts and states last year from Aug. 8 to Oct. 4.

Almost 75 percent said the “meaningfulness of their job” was important to them, and 79 percent said “overall office culture” was “very important.” Only 47 percent were “very satisfied,” however, with their office environments. Though more than half of respondents felt very strongly about having “flexibility to balance life and work issues,” just one in four staffers said they were satisfied with the work-life balance their jobs allowed.

According to the report, there are typically 15 full-time employees in House offices; in Senate offices, the number of staffers can reach into the dozens. They “wrestle annually with hundreds of legislative issues, answer 25,000 (House) to millions (Senate) of constituent communications per year, arrange state-based events for 40 or more weekends per year and liaison with every level of government,” the report said.

Working anywhere from 43 to 53 hours a week, 33 percent of respondents — disproportionately those in policy and legislative roles — disagreed with the statement “I usually have enough time to get everything done.”

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