Maintaining a Talented Workforce in Local Government

Since 2019, a staggering number of experienced workers in state and local government have left their jobs to seek greener pastures. Prompted by the pressures of the pandemic, and a seismic shift in how and where work gets done, many public employees saw this time as an opportunity to try something new. Some municipal workers started their own businesses or took new jobs in the more lucrative private sector. Others saw the pandemic as an open door to escape the workforce altogether through retirement. The “Great Resignation” as it has come to be known has resulted in a chronic and concerning shortage of public sector workers that is impacting how local governments function and effectively serve the public. It has also made working to keep experienced government employees and attracting new ones even more difficult for municipalities nationwide.

So, what is causing the exodus from the public job sector?

According to the Thomson Reuters Institute, major generational shifts are happening that are immediately impacting government agencies. With Baby Boomers retiring, there is a major loss of institutional knowledge within many agencies; and Millennials currently make up just 27% of the public workforce. Public employers need to make investments in talent attraction and retention now.

GovPilot, a leader in government software solutions, also cites inspiration, motivation, and an overall decline in employee loyalty as key reasons why workers have moved away from employment in local and state government. Contributing to these factors include:

  • Dissatisfaction with pay and benefits – In the public sector, pay raises are often slow to come by, making employees feel underappreciated and less valued.  The private sector offers increasingly more competitive salaries at a rate in which the public-sector cannot compete. 
  • Bureaucratic red tape – Even at the local level, the maze of committees, boards and slow decision-makers can make the most-simple tasks time-consuming and frustrating.
  • Outdated workflows and technology – Without sound new work processes and current technology to back them, doing the work of the people is becoming more difficult and inefficient.

Getting creative with the value of employment to keep experienced government employees

According to Thomson Reuters, to successfully compete with the private sector, government agencies need to adopt out-of-the-box thinking when considering ways to increase the value of employment. Municipalities should attempt to:

  • Quantify the total value of compensations and benefits — Adding up and marketing the total value of each position’s salary, bonus, health insurance, and other benefits is a smart way to compete against the larger compensation packages offered in the private sector. For example, if a public sector employer offers pensions for retirement, the guaranteed income over decades of retirement can be valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Offer expanded benefits and perks — Some of the most innovative employers offer creative perks such as holistic health and wellness coverage, pet insurance, home office allowance, subsidized or discounted rates for child and elder care, to name a few. By surveying employees, public sector employers can avoid the one-size-fits all approach and find out what perks are most desired.
  • Create specialty debt payoff programs —An estimated 41% of participants in a recent survey indicated that the pandemic left them worse off financially, including a decrease in funds put away for retirement and an increase in the use of emergency funds and debt to make ends meet. As an example of this type of specialty payoff program, one employer got creative and offered unused paid time-off to repay employees’ student debt.
  • Develop an employer value proposition — Local government agencies should outline what they want to be known for in the marketplace. To start the process, they should ask long-time existing, most productive employees why they stay. Then, determine how best your municipality can replicate those experiences through the lens of productive, engaging, and enjoyable work.

Hear what employees are saying – and use that feedback to improve

The use of employee and employer feedback is an often-underused tactic to help retain key employees. Some of the ways the public sector employers can retain their most valuable employees by leveraging feedback, include:

Conducting “stay” interviews — In today’s competitive labor market, employers more than ever need to keep an eye on how employees, especially high performers, are feeling. Stay interviews, help managers understand why employees stay and what might cause them to leave.

Investing in professional development — One of the top factors of employee retention is the availability of learning opportunities. With many options of online learning platforms available to employers, it’s relatively easy for employers to invest in upskilling and offer a variety of options for skills development for their employees. For example, the state of Missouri improved employee satisfaction by 54% by investing in LinkedIn Learning for its employees.

All these skills are critically important for today’s employees, from Millennials to Gen X to Baby Boomers, and any who see purpose and meaningful work as top factors when considering a job at a government agency or public sector employer.

Mentor new clerks to answer questions and instill confidence.

The position of municipal clerk can be overwhelming and frustrating for someone who has never done it. Becoming or assigning an experienced mentor to a new clerk can help that individual learn the ropes, get answers to questions, and grow into the position with confidence. They can also point out sources where new clerks can go for code information and other resources that can help them in their daily work such as General Code’s Municipal Staff Resource Page.

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