Government Shutdown Driving Both Current and Aspiring Federal Workers Away

January 24, 2019

Key Findings

  • More federal workers are looking for new jobs as the government shutdown drags on. Since January 11, when government workers missed their first paycheck, the number of workers from affected federal agencies looking for jobs on Glassdoor has increased by 10 percent.
  • The ongoing shutdown is deterring candidates from applying to jobs at federal agencies. The number of applications on Glassdoor to jobs at affected federal agencies has dropped by a staggering 46 percent and the trend continues to worsen.
  • Glassdoor data show there may be impacts to the federal workforce that outlast the shutdown if the nation’s longest-ever federal government shutdown continues further into 2019.

As the longest-ever government shutdown enters its second month, federal agencies are increasingly at risk of driving away workers. Many furloughed federal workers or those working without pay are reporting financial hardship, forcing them to look for other work to bridge the loss in income.

However, the lengthy shutdown may not only impact current government workers but prospective ones as well. The federal government hires around 30,000 workers every month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not only has the shutdown put a temporary pause on hiring, but it also hurts the federal government’s reputation as an employer and its ability to attract top talent.

More Federal Workers Are Looking For Other Jobs

After workers missed their first paycheck on January 11, the number of employees at affected federal agencies searching for new jobs on Glassdoor spiked by 10 percent. To put that in concrete terms, with 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay—a 10 percent increase in the normal rate of workers quitting would correspond to an additional 400 workers leaving the federal workforce every month.

On Friday, January 25, workers will miss another paycheck. As the shutdown drags on and financial stress accumulates for ordinary employees, the risk is that attrition of experienced government workers will accelerate, undermining the long-term human capital of the federal workforce.

The Shutdown Drives Away Aspiring Federal Workers

The federal government hires 30,000 workers each month, relying on its reputation as a reliable employer with good benefits. Although current workers may ride out the storm in order to keep their benefits, the highly-publicized shutdown isn’t a good recruiting moment for prospective workers and may discourage aspiring candidates from applying to government jobs in the first place.

As the government shutdown entered the news cycle in mid-December, the number of applications to government jobs initiated on Glassdoor began to decline. As the shutdown continued, the decline accelerated—the number of applications to government jobs at affected agencies has dropped a staggering 46 percent compared to last year.

While the impact on current workers is significant for their financial well-being, the shutdown may threaten the long-term attractiveness of the government as an employer. In a labor market with record-low unemployment where the government is already competing fiercely with the private sector for scarce workers, the shutdown is an added hit to the government’s ability to attract top-tier talent—an effect that may last long past the end of the shutdown.


While the impact of the government shutdown has been much-discussed in recent weeks, the focus has been on closed government services and workers’ challenges in making month-to-month payments. Less visible is the risk of the shutdown degrading the quality of the federal workforce by pushing current employees into private sector jobs and by deterring aspiring candidates from applying at all.

The government has promised back pay for workers, which will help ameliorate financial stresses and economic headwinds incurred over the course of the shutdown. But the impact of the shutdown on the federal workforce may continue on, well after the government reopens and employees return to work.



To analyze the effect of the government shutdown on the federal workforce, we leveraged Glassdoor’s unique position as one of the world’s largest jobs and recruiting sites with over 60 million monthly users.

First, we curated a list of affected federal agencies with over 1,000 employees based on a public list of the affected departments, excluding fee-funded or otherwise unaffected agencies. Next, we identified employees of affected agencies based on whether they had identified themselves as such on Glassdoor like in a user profile.

We calculated the Job Applications Index for affected agencies based on the number of applications started from Glassdoor for jobs associated with those employers. Similarly, we calculated the Job Seeker Index based on the number of unique users employed by affected agencies who had clicked on a job on Glassdoor. Both indices are normalized to 100 based on their respective values as of Dec 9, 2018—the first day of the last full week before the shutdown began.