Amidst all the news about the budget impasse, sequesters and partisan gridlock, it’s easy to think of Congress as a bunch of do-nothings more concerned with scoring points than getting actual work done. In fact, a new survey by SHRM and the Congressional Management Foundation finds that the average member of Congress puts in 70 hours of work per week when Congress is in session, spending 35 percent of a typical week on legislative/policy work when Congress is in Washington, 32 percent on constituent services work when in their districts, and 17 to 18 percent on political/campaign work (i.e., fundraising) at all times. When Congress is on recess, members report an average 59-hour workweek.
“Members of Congress get very frustrated, really angry, when they hear reports about them going home on recess and not working,” says Bradford Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonprofit that works to improve Congressional operations through research and training. “They work long hours regardless of whether the House is in session.”
The survey was released today at SHRM’s 2013 Employment Law and Legislative Conference and was conducted jointly by SHRM and the CMF to, as Fitch says, “improve the effectiveness of Congress by shining a spotlight on Congress as a workplace.”
The report also showed that members rated “staying in touch with constituents” as the aspect of their job most critical to their effectiveness, with 95 percent rating it as very important. A majority of the members also gave their job high marks in the satisfaction it gave them and the important work they feel they are doing. For example, 89 percent listed feeling “satisfied” in response to the statement “Feeling that you are performing an important public service.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, work/life balance is not a part of their lives members are highly satisfied with: While 68 percent cited “Spending time with my family” as very important, only 16 percent were satisfied with this aspect. Nearly nine out of 10 feel they spend too little time with family and friends and too little time on other personal activities. In fact, the overwhelming majority of House members (85 percent) report that their spouses/families live in their home district, not with them in Washington, and regularly fly home to spend time with them on weekends.
“The fact that many keep their families at home has probably contributed to the lack of relationship-building among different members of Congress from different parties,” says Fitch. Interestingly, he says, some of the work/life benefits implemented in Congress in recent years (such as a daycare center operated by the Senate and a lactation center set up by Nancy Pelosi when she was House Speaker) have in some cases led to bipartisanship friendships among Congress members and their staffs, he says. “In many cases, they get a chance to interact and get to know one another outside the formal workplace,” he says.
Lisa Horn, coleader of SHRM’s Workplace Flexibility Initiative, says SHRM and the CMF plan to conduct training for members of Congress and their staffs in the next few months on best practices in work/life balance in areas such as flexible hours, telecommuting and job sharing.
The report, “Life in Congress: The Member Perspective,” is based on a survey conducted of 25 members of the House of Representatives and is augmented with focus groups, interviews and data collected by the CMF during its 35-year history of working with Congress.