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Execs Leaving Federal Service Recommend SES to New Leaders

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
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In April 2013, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a new exit survey for standard distribution by all agencies across the federal government to departing members of the Senior Executive Service (SES). The SES Exit Survey is designed to capture valuable information regarding the circumstances under which senior executives leave the federal government and offer an opportunity for executives to provide candid feedback about their work experiences.

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The data presented in the 2017 SES Exit Report is intended to support agency and government-wide recruitment, engagement, retention, and succession planning efforts for current and future executives. (Note: Data focuses on the analysis of 212 survey responses collected from August 2015 to July 2016, as well as trend data from previous SES Exit reports.)

Here are some key findings:

  • Retirement continues to be the most common reason SES are leaving their agencies. As in previous years, the majority of SES indicated they were leaving their agency due to retirement (61 percent).
  • Executives are leaving with intent to continue working, in many cases for higher pay; an increasing number intend to work without any reduction in pay. A cross-year survey comparison of work schedule and salary expectations from Year 1 (2013-14) to Year 3 (2015-16) highlighted that an increasing percentage of departing SES intended to continue to work full-time without taking a cut in pay. And while the percentage of departing SES seeking an increase in pay has remained relatively stable between Year 1 and Year 3, the percentage expecting their pay to decrease has diminished by 8 percentage points.
  • Agencies can influence whether or not an executive stays in the organization; however, factors may vary based on retirement eligibility status. Many executives who intend to keep working indicated they would stay for increased pay (39 percent), change in duties or responsibilities (28 percent), increased autonomy (27 percent), and better worklife balance (22 percent). Fewer retirement eligible executives indicated they would stay for these same factors. In addition, executives who leave their agencies to pursue opportunities that do not include retirement were more likely to indicate that the lack of advancement opportunities and recognition contributed greatly or very greatly to their decisions to leave (48 percent vs 34 percent), while executives who retired were more likely to attribute exit decisions to personal reasons (63 percent vs 54 percent).
  • Work environment issues continue to be the highest contributing factors in an executive’s decision to leave. Overall, work environment issues such as the “political environment” (42 percent), “organizational culture” (42 percent), and “senior leadership” (40 percent) contributed the most to executives’ decisions to their leaving the agency.
  • Formal succession planning is not the norm for senior-level roles. A majority of departing SES (61 percent) said their agencies had no formal succession planning efforts for executives, and more than half (56 percent) said their agency made no efforts to involve them in preparing their successor.

For a deeper dive into the data, check out the 33-page 2017 SES Exit Report.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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