By Jesse Lent

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s national 2010 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, odds are they just might.

Of the 250,000 full-time, federal employees from 82 government agencies (including the Department of Justice, which staffs maximum-security prisons) participating in the anonymous survey, 92 percent felt their job was important, and 86 percent reported enjoying the work.

Compare that with a New York Times report in May that job satisfaction for the average U.S. worker is at an all-time low of 45 percent, down 16 points from where it was in 1987.

A Gallup poll released earlier this year found that more than two-thirds of employed Americans are “not engaged” or “unengaged” in the workplace.

But what is it about a government job that seems to satisfy those on the federal payroll more than employees in the private sector?

Some observers feel it may have to do with the budget tightening that has been a consequence of the current economic recession.

“Everybody who still has a job is working even more, because companies are laying people off and not replacing the positions,” said Rebecca Frick, an administrative assistant for children’s clothing label Osh Kosh B’Gosh. “Those left are doing more for the same amount of money.”

Frick herself was drawn to the prospect of working in the public sector, but the kind of government position she wanted required more additional education than she could afford.

“I seriously considered it,” Frick said. “But when I did the cost-benefit analysis, it wasn’t feasible.”

But although government jobs may be insulated from many of the cutbacks and layoffs that occur in the private sector, the system of professional rewards within the federal ranks is an area of contention, according to the 2010 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Only 27 percent of the participants felt pay raises are based on performance, and just a quarter responded that those with a poor work performance are penalized.

Even John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, admitted in an open letter posted to his agency’s website that the reward system for federal employees is an area that the survey shows needs improvement.

“Performance management, including the management of poor performers, and the promotion process are areas of concern,” wrote Berry.

However, few would argue that the private sector holds the monopoly on high performance on the job. One area of the federal government where employees have shown considerable productivity is within the armed forces.

A Gallup poll taken from Aug. 1, 2009 to June 15 of this year lists the percentage of active duty military personnel who are “thriving” at their job at 68%, as compared to 58% of all U.S. workers. That percentage among soldiers is the same for those who have been deployed in combat and those who haven’t.

The devotion that many in the public sector feel towards their work can produce greater results than for those employees chasing titles or wealth, according to Andrea Girolamo, managing editor of Kitchen and Bath Design News.

“I worked the last six years in publishing,” Girolamo said. “I thought that this was what I wanted to do. After a few years of climbing the professional ladder, I feel an emptiness regarding the work; like its not helping anyone in the larger sense. It’s just helping me to get a paycheck.”

Girolamo is in the process of earning her master’s degree in environmental science with the hope of attaining a federal job. One major benefit she sees in the public sector is the way in which the organizations are run.

“They have salary levels and very organized pay raise systems,” she said. “Structure helps morale. I think that’s one thing that most private sector jobs lack: a corporate structure that makes sense for the employees.”

According to New York City Department of Transportation employee Dave Volano, the level of job satisfaction among government workers could be due to the fact that you get to see the results of your labor.

“There’s an agenda to fill,” he said. “We have a mission, and we can see the work we do actually get put into place.”

Although he currently works for the city, Volano has also been on the federal payroll as a crew leader for the U.S. Census Bureau. He hopes to stay in the public sector because of the benefits and stability that seem to be increasingly harder to find in civilian jobs.

But even he was surprised about the level of job engagement within the government that the 2010 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey revealed.

“I had no idea that government workers were that satisfied,” Volano said.

And although some may be skeptical of whether 92 percent of federal employees truly believe in the significance of their job, for Girolamo it’s an inspiring statistic.

“That’s what I’m looking for; to be in that 92 percent that feels satisfied with the importance of their work,” she said. “I want to feel that way.”