Labor market trends clearly indicate instability in the workforce that has left employers worried about the impacts to their organizations. Public sector organizations are facing workforce retention challenges as a result of the ongoing pandemic, the “Great Resignation” and a large portion of employees at or nearing retirement age. These issues present consequential dilemmas for government entities because the public sector workforce is needed to provide critical services to their community.
While there are a number of external factors beyond your control, as leaders, you can help improve your organization’s work culture. Government can be a fulfilling, meaningful place to work, and elected officials and managers are responsible for making that a lived experience for employees by creating a collaborative, team-oriented subculture that employees are proud to engage in Monday through Friday.
The following management techniques will help governmental leaders institute an environment where people want to stay.
- Create opportunities for meaningful work. A straightforward way to do this is to simply ask employees. Give them ownership and the power to help define how their time is spent. Meaningful work can come in the form of having specific responsibilities, improving services or helping build a program. Ask specifically how a role will uniquely provide meaning to each individual employee. Do they want to create the approach, provide analytical support or interact with customers? The role can transform a task from something employees “just has to do” to a responsibility from which they derive value.
- Set employees up to succeed. Playing to an employee’s strengths provides managers the opportunity to acknowledge the contributions made so employees feel appreciated. Authentically recognize employees in real-time, specifically noting what they did well. Saying, “Good job” sounds shallow, whereas, saying, “You did a great job navigating the customer’s utility billing questions and de-escalating the situation,” communicates what you noticed and appreciated.
- Support employee growth. Focus on ways you can help develop soft skills and technical skills. The explicit commitment between employees and employers is that the employee does the work and the employer pays. The unspoken commitment is that in exchange for their time, employees want opportunities to grow and be challenged. Ask employees where they want to be or what they want their role to look like in five years. Help identify ways to build the necessary skills to get there. Employees stay where they see opportunities, and opportunities do not need to be synonymous with promotions.
- Tie their role to the department and/or organization’s mission. Clearly providing employees with a purpose to their work (i.e., a “why”) creates a culture where “what” people do can all have value regardless of the employee’s seniority. Establishing a mission makes it easier for employees to connect their work to meaning and recognize the importance of their work as part of the team. As a manager, make sure you recognize and vocally express appreciation for their role as well.
People do not generally look for new opportunities unless they are unhappy in their current position. Employees are constantly evaluating their work lives and many are crystalizing in their minds what they want and what they are unwilling to tolerate. Organizational leaders, and especially direct managers, have the power to promote a work environment where employees want to stay because they see value in the work they do and are seen for the contributions they bring.
For more information, or to learn how Baker Tilly’s public sector talent management specialists can help your organization, contact our team.