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What is a Government Employee?

Updated on October 5, 2014
davidlivermore profile image

David has over 10 years supervisory experience and has extensive knowledge in how to handle personnel issues across many areas.

Author's Experience

I am currently employed with a county government, which I have been with for almost 15 years. I started at the very lowest level of my organization until I worked my way up to a higher level.

There are many more layers of a government organization than the head of the government.
There are many more layers of a government organization than the head of the government. | Source

What is a Government Employee?

Basically, a government employee is someone who works for the government. This could be a local government all the way up to a federal government. The government isn't just run by elected officials. In fact, it takes a government employee to help accomplish the goals set forth by elected officials and the laws that govern that organization.

However, everyone seems to feel that government employees are rude, lazy, and a waste of taxpayer money. That isn't the case at all, and this article means to clear that up. As a government employee myself, I'll share everything you need to know about us, and how you should handle us.

Some VERY good points in this video!

Are you or have you ever been a government employee?

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Government employees are misunderstood by the general populace.
Government employees are misunderstood by the general populace. | Source

The Job of a Government Employee

First I am going to run down what it is to be a government employee. Some of this will vary between each organization, but holds true for the most part.

  • We didn't choose this kind of work. Hardly anyone in a government organization grew up as a child and chose to be a government employee. There are some exceptions such as police officers, fire fighters, politicians, etc. But I had no aspirations of becoming a government employee. I had to just because I needed a job.
  • We are underpaid. Everyone thinks that government employees are overpaid. The only problem with this is that people only look at the highest government officials, or those who are elected. Of course they earn a lot of money. Those at the very bottom? They can barely make enough to get by. Better money can be found in the private sector.
  • We have great benefits. But those benefits come with a catch. Many years ago, I didn't have to pay into my retirement, and what I had to pay into my medical insurance was low. Today, I have to pay into my retirement, and my insurance premiums have increased. In fact, with any raise I get, it's usually offset increased insurance premiums. It's worse for newer employees, as they have to pay much more into their benefits.
  • We don't get raises that often. Most government employees don't receive a raise each year, unless it's in our union contract and during good economic times. My last raise was a whole 2%, which was barely enough to cover my increase in insurance premiums. My next raise will be either when I get a promotion, or when I receive another 2% for when I finish 15 full years as a government employee. However, I noticed my take home pay going down each year for at least the past few years.
  • We want to give you what you want. As a supervisor, one of the complaints I receive the most is that we aren't giving someone what they want. It would make our jobs easier to just give you what you are asking for, rather than arguing with you why you can't have it. There are legitimate reasons why you can't have something. Either it's an internal policy or a law that tells us we can't give you what you want.
  • Our job isn't as secure as you may think. A common misconception is that once you become a government employee, you can't be fired. While it's true that it's very hard to get fired as a government employee, it does happen. I have done it myself. We could also be laid off or told to take time off without pay during a budget crisis. So just like the private sector, our jobs are at risk.
  • Politics rarely get involved. For the most part we don't see anything political going in our organization. It tends to happen behind the scenes, and we only see the effect of it. At my level I am starting to see the political side of things, but I know I am only scratching the surface. So don't complain to them about the politics of their organization.
  • We are expected to do more with less. Each year we are receiving more work to do, with less people to do it with. Yet we are expected to do it all. In bad economic times that could be because there is no money to hire new staff. In good economic times, people don't want a job with the government because it doesn't pay as much. It's a lose-lose for us.
  • Most people are happy with our service. I hear "thank you" from the public most of the time, on an almost daily basis. For the most part people are happy with the services we provide, and show their appreciation. However, 1% of the population throws the biggest fits about the service we offer, and that overshadows the 99% who are happy with the service we provide.
  • Our own government is trying to take more away from us. Obviously pension plans, pay, and other employee benefits make up a huge chunk of what the government spend its money on. When budgets are tight, elected officials try to take it out on their employees first. Either by taking benefits away, denying us pay raises, or even laying us off.

These are the kind of people government employees deal with...

You can vote in government officials, but you can't vote in government employees.
You can vote in government officials, but you can't vote in government employees. | Source

The Person Behind the Government Employee

The person who performs government work should be considered when dealing with a government employee, such as:

  • We took the job because we needed a job. Not many people want to go into government work. More than likely the employee needed a job, and the government organization hired them. They are a working grunt, just like you are. Don't expect them to perform to the highest standards just because they work for the government.
  • Some government employees can receive government assistance. We have employees that are single parents, and with the low pay that some get, they could qualify for low income benefits. That's the reality of their situation. Some work as much as they can to earn as much extra money as they can to survive.
  • There are good employees, and there are bad employees. Just like every single profession out there, you will come across good employees who want to help you, and bad employees who could care less about you. The truth is that leaders in a government organization want to get rid of the bad employees, but it can be difficult to do so. We try to reform poor employees, but that can be hard as well.
  • A lot of them care about their jobs. I have employees who care that we do a good job, and put as much effort as possible into that. I am one of those people. I know I am paid using taxpayer money, so I put in as much effort as possible. There are also those who only do what is expected, or worse. It's like that at every job, though.
  • A lot of government employees do more than what is expected. In my position I get paid to be a supervisor. However, I do far more than what is required. I answer my phone after hours, check my work e-mail after hours, work longer without putting it down for overtime pay, and perform duties that are outside of my job classification. An example is that I know how to do some programming. It's not required in my position, but to get various duties accomplished I had no choice but to learn.
  • We don't spend money frivolously. I try to cut corners where I can. With supplies, overtime, and other items my office may need. We are always being told to cut back. I just don't see something in a catalog and decide to order it. Sure, government leaders may spend a grand on a roll of toilet paper, but that is the exception in government organizations, not the rule.
  • People have their off days. Just like you do, some people can just be having a bad day. They may not be able to help and let it leak into their work. We try to avoid that, but sometimes it can't be helped. Government employees are humans, just like you.
  • Some make a government job their entire career. in the end, a government employee will make that job their entire career. That should be commended. Government work is difficult, and workers are underpaid and under-appreciated. The hardest part about having a government job is training new employees to take over for those who have left. So keeping an experienced person around for a long time is a good thing.
  • Yes, we do talk about you after you leave. And I am sure you do the same at your job. When we help someone that is pushy or annoying, of course we talk about you. Who doesn't? It's how we let off steam. Don't be offended by it. We will still help you as much as you can, just expect us to to gossip about you once you have left.
  • Not everyone can do government work. I have seen people quit their job just after a few days because they couldn't handle it. Working for the government is completely different than the private sector, and it takes a unique kind of person to do it.

Who was at fault? The employee or the person calling in?

Has a government employee ever been rude to you?

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The worst thing you can do is to be rude or argue with a government employee.
The worst thing you can do is to be rude or argue with a government employee. | Source

How to Handle a Government Employee

There are a few things you should consider when talking to a government employee:

  • Always be nice. Even if you don't like how they are acting, or their demeanor, always act nice. This could get you what you want or allow you to find someone else who will provide you with what you want. It may not be fair if the employee acts like a jerk, but acting like a jerk in return will get you nowhere fast.
  • Understand why they are telling you no. When a government employee tells you that they can't do something for you, try to understand why. If they just state no and fail to provide a reason, respectfully ask for the reason. If you are nice about it, they should explain it to you.
  • Be thankful when they help you. Being a government employee can be a thankless job. When you are done with their service, thank them for their help. I know each time someone thanks me, I greatly appreciate it and it makes me enjoy helping the public so much more.
  • Be patient. It can take time to get what you need. It could take minutes, hours, or even days. Be patient with the process. There could be hundreds of other things going on, or five people in front of you asking for the same thing.
  • Be prepared to talk to a supervisor. If you don't like the response or treatment you receive, respectfully ask for a supervisor. If they state a supervisor isn't available, then get the name and number of a supervisor. All government run offices have a supervisor or manager.

One more crazy member of the public that we have to deal with...

Don't annoy a government employee by making these statements.
Don't annoy a government employee by making these statements. | Source

Common Statements Told to a Government Employee

Below are some common statements that I hear from the general public when they are talking to me while at work, or even when I'm outside of work. While I try to respond kindly, this is how I feel when I hear these statements:

  • "My taxes pay your salary!" - I agree with you. Your taxes go into an account, and that money is divided up among many different departments and organizations, which in turn pays my salary. However, I pay taxes as well. I help pay my salary, as well as the salary of every other government employee. That holds no weight with me. I'll try to help you even if you refuse to pay taxes.
  • "You get too much (money, benefits, etc.)." - How do you know? Did you go online and find out how much money I make? I doubt it. Even if you know, you know a small fraction of what I do to deserve that pay. If you don't like how much I make, then complain to the elected officials who can do something about it. Otherwise, it's out of my hands.
  • "Do you know (insert persons name)?" - I receive this question a lot outside of work once someone figures out who I work for. Just because I work for a government organization, doesn't mean I know every single employee in that organization. There could be thousands of employees in a government organization. I won't know them all.
  • "Why can't you give me (insert whatever the person is asking for)?" - Because I have nothing better else to do that to refuse to give you something. If I am telling you that you can't have something or I can't do something for you, I have a legitimate reason for that. As I stated above, we want to give you what you want, but my hands are tied.
  • "But can't you just look the other way on this?" - At the risk of losing my job? Of course not. I won't risk my job for you. I've had friends, relatives, and former co-workers ask for something they know they can't have. I won't risk my job or "look the other way" to give you what you want.
  • "I want to file a complaint!" - Be my guest. I'll give you the form, and I'll help you flesh out any details you want. Most government employees have nothing to hide and have a good reason why they did what they did. Those who did something bad may try to discourage you from making a complaint. But good government employees won't.
  • "I know the person in charge of your organization!" - Good for you. That isn't a threat to me and it doesn't scare me. I have briefly talked to the head of my organization, but I am unsure if he is aware of me. Even if you go to him to complain about me, it will trickle down until it gets to my boss. Even so, if I feel I am justified, I will stand by what I did.
  • "Why don't you have access to (insert random government information from a totally different organization)?" - For some reason the general public thinks that all government organizations are "linked" up and that we can retrieve information from any government organization. This can be true in some cases, but not always. It doesn't hurt to ask, but don't be pushy about it.
  • "I don't like how your organization handled (insert some incident which was on the news)." - What do you expect me to say? I am just trying to make a living. I won't comment on what my organization did. I'll remain neutral because I know if I start going off about it, it could get me in hot water at work. If you have a complaint, then protest it appropriately. But don't expect to get a rise out of me.
  • "I spoke to the person with the brown hair." Always get details of who you spoke to in the past. Get their first and last name. Just because you talked to someone with brown hair six months ago doesn't mean who I know you are talking about now. Staff are changing on a constant basis in government offices. So get detailed information.

How a government shutdown can affect government employees...

Do you assume all government employees are lazy, rude, and worthless?

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My Experiences as a Government Employee

I want to end this article with some thoughts about how it's like to be a government employee.

I like my job, I really do. I like helping the public, and for the most part, the public is thankful when I help them. But when you get someone who is rude outright just because I work for the government, it can make it harder to enjoy my job. In the end I brush it off. Helping the public directly is a small portion of my job, but in a larger scale, my job is entirely to help the public.

People don't know the effect government employees have in their life. Even if you rarely interact with a government employee for assistance, we do things that help your life along. No one realizes that. Sure, approval ratings are low for most government officials, but government employees shouldn't be punished for that. We try to do the best we can, so we don't deserve the treatment we receive sometimes. There are some bad apples, but it's like that with any job, all over the world.

How do you feel about government employees? If you are a government employee, how do you feel about what I said? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 2 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Very well structured and nicely stated. I feel and applaud the information provided representing the service industry or sector no matter the agency - public or private. This is valuable information for learning and understanding while realizing the importance of interactions.


    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      There are a lot of misconceptions about government employees, and just like other places there are both great employees and terrible ones. I did a stint through government and will never venture there again, just my personal experience. Good presentation of a government employee's perspective.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      As an LTL driver for the private sector, I often delivered to various outlets of the postal service. At some of these places I found some of the most rude and maladjusted human beings I've ever met in my life. At others I found some of the kindest most affable human beings I've ever met in my life. The point is that government workers are pretty much like any other kind of worker. You have your good and your bad. Very comprehensive overview.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      Great hub, and well done.

      However, I worked in the defense industry for over ten years as a contractor. I worked with the defense company and the government employees on the project.

      Let me first say, that much of the resentment is against the government itself rather than the employees.

      I know for a fact, how good the benefits of the federal government employee. And yes, I have looked up the pay for government employees which are available on government websites.

      I have also looked at FERS, and FEHS, and most of us in the private sector no longer see these kinds of packages.

      No one gets more vacation days, or holidays than a federal worker. These benefits cost the taxpayers a lot of money.

      At one time, the stereo type of the government worker was the underpaid public servant, but today that is no longer true.

      Government employees have excellent retirement not found in the private sector. A defined benefits package is the top of the line. So is the health insurance, which continues after retirement.

      There is no fear of losing their job, as we have seen tens of millions of worker's in the private sector not only lose their jobs, but also their industry.

      In the private sector, most workers today are forced to sign an At Will Employment Contract, which takes away any contractual rights to their job. An employer can get rid of any employee without even giving a reason.

      I wouldn't blame the federal employee, but I would blame the congress for not giving the private sector the same programs.

      Many people in both sectors can retire on the job, but it is really easy to release those employees in the private sector, but not that easy in the public sector.

      The government workers don't have to worry that their company will lay them off, or furlough them, or cut their pay, and benefits, as it commonly happens in the private sector.

      When there is a government shutdown, the government employees always seem to get their lost time back in their paycheck.

      I will say that the people that I worked with and for in the defense industry also have their low energy I can't lose my job attitude.

      Yes, that is true in all areas, but it is difficult to get rid of them in the defense industry.

      The government employees that I interfaced with didn't have anything to do with the public directly. But we have all talked to the government employees on the phone, and they don't have any leeway, nor do they offer any alternatives, and there is no one that you can call. In the private sector you can call the president of the company, who can you call in the government?

      BTW, even though the government employee has to contribute to both SS, and Medicare, they are supplemental to FERS, and FEHS. There is also the TSP.

      For the comparable average workers today, the government employee comes out the winner. Earlier retirement, and being able to retire from multiple careers.

      Private employers cannot match the benefits of the government, because they can go bankrupt. At the same time when the government is running in the red, they don't feel that they need to cut their benefits, or reduce their work force.

      In fact, they keep increasing the size of the work force.

      Again this is against Congress, and not directed specifically against the government worker.


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