Despite long hours, relatively low pay, limited work-life flexibility and little job security, House and Senate staffers report high levels of job satisfaction.
Meanwhile, the desire to earn more money, inadequate opportunities for professional development and frustrations with office management are the top reasons cited by congressional staff in decisions to leave their current job or office.
Overall, those who choose to stay on Capitol Hill or in a district office do so because they believe the work they’re doing is meaningful.
Those are the findings of a study released Monday that analyzes the job satisfaction of House and Senate staff and what they value most about their workplace. Its authors at the Congressional Management Foundation and the Society for Human Resource Management based their report, “Life in Congress: Job Satisfaction and Engagement of House and Senate Staff,” on the responses of 1,432 congressional staffers surveyed from Aug. 4 to Oct. 4, 2011.
According to the report, 80 percent of congressional staff reported overall satisfaction with their current jobs, but 46 percent indicated they were likely or very likely to look for a job outside their current office in the next 12 months. Among Washington, D.C., staff, 63 percent said they were likely to be job-hunting, compared with 36 percent of district staff.
“With an office that is not managed well, talent leaves or is frustrated and [the] Member generally doesn’t bother with day-to-day matters,” wrote one House legislative director who responded to the survey. “Efficient and happy offices are generally run by chiefs of staff and members that value people, their skills, and manage fairly and reasonably.”
Staffers said office culture, support for the vision and goals of the member, and relationships with supervisors and co-workers were key to job satisfaction, but not always achieved. The opportunity to use skills and abilities ranked “very important” to 72 percent of staffers. But only 32 percent said they were “very satisfied” in that aspect. Meanwhile, 70 percent of staffers ranked communication between employees and senior management as “very important,” but only 22 percent reported that they were “very satisfied” with that communication.
Nearly two decades have passed since the CMF last collected data on the job satisfaction of House and Senate staff. Authors note that since the 1995 report, the day-to-day challenges of being a staffer — exceedingly long, unpredictable hours that leave little time for outside activities and cramped work quarters with no privacy — have been compounded by post-9/11 security concerns, the increased volume of constituent communication thanks to email and the Internet, and an incessant news cycle.
One Senate deputy communications director summed up the hardships in his response: “To me, being a staffer means you must be content to serve the public quietly or being vilified while you’re doing it, and often for lesser pay than other federal employees. Between the nasty political rancor, sometimes round-the-clock hours, and low pay, you have to really want to be a public servant. That’s why so many of us only last a few years here, and why my office is such a spectacular one in which to work.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.