Should I move from private sector to public sector for work/life balance
April 4, 2015 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Hi MetaFilter, Putting it out for the group to help me weigh the pro's and con's of a career move. I am 44 years old, marketing professional with 10 years experience in health care marketing communication. I recently got my MBA last year and got recruited to go to another large Chicago health care system. The new job pays more and is OK but we are going through a reorg and merger and my position will change going forward. My current boss is leaving the organization and said that he is putting me forward for a better position with more responsibility going into the reorg but it is hard to trust that this will happen since that is all going to be in flux. About a month ago I applied for a federal marketing communication project manager position with the General Services Administration at the Federal Acquisition Service and this past Friday I was offered the job as a GS-13 Step One and they want my answer on Monday.

I will be giving up my bonus $5K and the pay is similar to what I make now, plus all the federal benefits. In addition the GSA values work life balance and they would let me work from home up to 3 days a week. My Mom has alz and lives in the southeast in a nursing facility so I am interested in having enough time to move her to Chicago and have the work/life balance that the private sector cannot offer.

I am afraid that I will be bored by the position. It is B2B marketing and I have always done B2C marketing. Also I know there is red tape and incompetent folks everywhere but things I read about the federal gov really scare me. The top leadership folks I interviewed with impressed me, they were young and bright and not really the 'federal worker' I was expecting. I did not really get to meet any of the peers but since they have a lot of work from home, not sure that was possible. The reason I have been successful up to this point is that my ADHD mind is always moving, I am innovative and a fast thinker and I can think well on my feet and health care is always changing fast. I asked them what a typical day would look like and the Director told me that "every day is different" which gave me hope. I am not sure someone like me can do well in a federal bureaucracy but hell, I would like to have a life and I would like to have more time to devote to the things that matter. Maybe I could get an ADHD coach to keep me focused and try and make it work.

Any advice from others who have made a similar switch? Thanks in advance!
posted by washateria to Work & Money (9 answers total)
Data point: I have a friend who worked for the GSA. He was a programmer, rather than a marketer. He experienced a crazy amount of red tape, but at the same time, lots of downtime because of that red tape. Theoretically, you can use that downtime to just work on your own projects, which he did, but eventually, it was just too boring. He quit.

My last job was at a huge, bureaucratic company. Our team, though, was all young-ish, sharp people. What ended up happening is that we didn't get to do most of what we thought made sense and were frustrated. However, we did have good conversations and camaraderie.
posted by ignignokt at 10:20 AM on April 4, 2015

I will be giving up my bonus $5K and the pay is similar to what I make now, plus all the federal benefits.

I don't see the word "insurance" in this question but: job stability, federal-employee health benefits and the possibility of working from home are probably worth an awful lot more than $5k.
posted by mhoye at 10:50 AM on April 4, 2015

Time with your mother in her final years also sounds worth more than 5k!
posted by caoimhe at 10:57 AM on April 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a good friend working in Federal Govt in DC. He works in the dept of charge of creating policies and best practices around the Dodd-Frank legislation. He said because it's a new department, it's exciting and fulfilling. He feels like they're helping put useful new ideas in place. He compared it to the Dept of Ag, which is old and swollen large beyond it's need in the current economy and that people he knows in older departments like that are either emotionally detached from work or they find it emotionally frustrating. The biggest function of the older beaurocracies becomes to stop any change from actually happening. Hope that's helpful.

Balancing family life and steady benefits sounds like a not insignificant tradeoff. Do you have any hobbies or interests that could keep life fulfilling if your job no longer serves that function?
posted by Thaddeus Rex at 11:56 AM on April 4, 2015

If you haven't already, you might check the reviews of the GSA as an employer at

I'm 54. I've worked in both the public and private sectors, and now I train people in both sectors. In my experience, the public sector tolerates a lower level of performance and a higher level of drama-creation. People who would be fired in the private sector for poor performance or crisis-creating are just shuffled around in the public sector, which means you might have a higher chance of ending up with a problematic coworker or boss. I notice more "strong personalities" in the public sector, which can be interesting or annoying, depending on the personality.

At the same time, there are some very dedicated people in the public sector who see their jobs almost as personal missions. I've been impressed by their determination to get things done despite the restrictions they're under.

I didn't get much in the way of raises in the public sector. My salary barely kept up with inflation. So if you take the GSA job, make sure you start at the highest salary they're willing to give you, because if it's anything like my former salary, it will inch up only a tiny percent each year, regardless of your performance.
posted by ceiba at 12:15 PM on April 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

The red tape, incompetence, reluctance to firing bad people, and all that is very agency-specific. I don't find that generally to be the case where I work, but I don't work at GSA. I feel a pretty huge freedom to "be the change I want to see" in my area of influence. So far I've had good success in spreading my ideas to my colleagues at the same level, getting promoted to larger areas of influence, and selling bigger ideas up to my bosses. It's when you try to "fight the man" and change too much too far out of your paygrade and want it right now... that's a recipe for unhappiness.

What I think is generally applicable to most agencies is: you won't get rich in federal service. They call it service because to a certain extent it's a personal sacrifice for the greater good (country, mission, etc.) I'm in federal service also and what I like about it is the sense that I'm doing something important. I could get paid more doing this in the private sector (and have friends who do) but it's worth something to me to feel more connected to the vision than "I do this, you give me money."
posted by ctmf at 2:38 PM on April 4, 2015

You do get raises in the GS system, starting once a year and then slowing down as you go on. So after a year at GS 13 step 1 you go up to a step 2.

I work in a technical field, so I am shielded from the worst of the bureaucratic nonsense. But you do see it, especially when budget concerns start affecting what you are able to do or what training you can attend.
posted by weathergal at 7:57 PM on April 4, 2015

Best answer: For what it's worth, the Federal Acquisitions Service is in the top quartile for job satisfaction (number 69 out of 314) based on the annual and pretty well-respected "Best Places To Work in the Federal Government" rankings. That's good!
posted by whitewall at 5:29 AM on April 5, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you all so very much! I am going to accept the position and see if I can create a life outside my work. I appreciate all your insights and comments.
posted by washateria at 5:53 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

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