Increased Turnover as More Federal Workers Quit

Mar 23, 2018


In 2017, more federal employees chose to voluntarily resign their positions leading to an increased turnover. Last year saw 468,000 employees leave the federal government resulting in a 16.7% turnover rate, up from 16.4% in 2016, according to data obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of that number, 189,000 quit the government in 2017, up from 162,000 in 2016. This made the federal government’s quit rate 6.7% in 2017 compared to 5.8% in 2016 and 5.4% in 2015.

Even though more employees chose to quit, fewer decided to retire. Further, the number of separations (including retirements, deaths, and disability) fell in 2017 to 123,000, down from 138,000 in 2016. The other separations rate declined from 4.9% in 2016 to 4.4% in 2017. Rates are determined by the number of separations during the entire year as a percentage of annual average employment.

Aging Federal Workforce

From 2011-2014, the annual number of workers quitting federal service was small than the number of other separations. Since 2015, this has reversed with 2017 making this the largest gap between quits and other separations in the past 3 years.

The Office of Personnel Management reports approximately 45% of full-time is over 50 with 4% of those over the age of 65. Even the number of new hires declined to 456,000, down from 487,000 in 2016. The combination of fewer retirements and fewer hires is resulting in an older workforce. OPM estimates only 6% of full-time federal employees are under the age of 30.


Early in the Trump administration brought concerns the new administration would increase firings, however, the total number of federal employees laid off or discharged in 2017 remained the same as 2016. In both 2016 and 2017, there were 157,000 layoffs and discharges at a rate of 5.6%. This contrasts with 163,000 in 2015.

Comparing Private Sector Numbers

Turnover numbers and rates, and subcategories of turnover have always been greater in the private sector and that remained true in 2017. In the private sector, the rate of total separation rose to 47.4 % in 2017, up from 46.5% in 2016.

The rate of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs was 29.1% in 2017, rising from 28.1% in 2016. This number has risen for 8 consecutive years. Layoffs and discharges rose from 15.4% in 2016 to 15.6% in 2017, while the rate of other separations (retirements, deaths, disability) dropped from 3.0% in 2016 to 2.8% in 2017.

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