Agencies need retention strategies to keep employees on board, report shows

Partnership for Public Service recommends retention techniques

With federal employees under a two-year pay freeze and some House members proposing a moratorium on hiring new federal employees, agencies must focus on developing retention strategies or they might be short staffed, according to a Partnership for Public Service report released today.

The report calls for agencies to use technology, such as internal social networks, to encourage cross-agency networking and communication about mission-related projects, among several other recommendations.

“For some young employees, this kind of access and sharing is an important aspect of the environment they favor and seek,” the report states.


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The partnership, along with Booz Allen Hamilton, produced the “Keeping Talent: Strategies for Retaining Valued Federal Employees” report to examine what makes employees stay with an organization, what retention techniques and tools are available to federal human resources professionals and managers, and what they think are the most effective strategies.

The report’s authors conducted focus groups and surveyed representatives from more than 20 agencies to understand current retention problems.

The partnership found that overall attrition rates vary among agencies and identified three categories of employees who represent attrition risks, including those who are new to their agencies, those eligible to retire in one to five years and those classified as having mission-critical jobs.

When employees leave an agency, their co-workers are often demoralized and federal managers must scramble to reorganize existing work, according to the report.

The report emphasizes the current situation federal employees face – a pay freeze and a potential halt in hiring – and urges federal agencies to understand who is leaving their agencies and pinpoint contributing factors in the work environment.

If an agency fails to implement retention strategies, it could be short-staffed and unable to meet its goals, the partnership said.

“A pay and hiring freeze could create conditions that may prompt some employees to seek other opportunities or cause eligible workers to retire sooner than anticipated,” the report states. “Agencies could certainly find themselves short-staffed and unable to fill key positions if a hiring freeze is enacted.”

The organization said agencies can retain employees by outlining elements of the work environment that are important to employees, such as teamwork, leadership and supervision, performance management, training and development, and a work/life balance, among other factors.

“In general, employees want to be recognized for their work, use their talents, have an impact, feel empowered, receive support and have opportunities for growth,” the report states. “They want to have good relationships with their supervisors and colleagues, as well as a sense of teamwork and shared mission.”

Focus-group respondents also indicated that an employee’s experience the first few weeks of a job is particularly significant, and so is a family-friendly work environment and fair compensation.

The study highlighted retention efforts by the Government Accountability Office and the Transportation Security Administration. For example, TSA has increased retention by providing supervisory training, adding new bands and making available realistic job previews.

The report said using realistic job previews means ensuring applicants understand what a job entails and whether they are a good fit.

The partnership recommended agencies use those previews and periodic surveys to gain insight into the way different employees feel about agency operations and leadership, and strengthen the assessment process for evaluating and selecting new employees.

Agencies should also establish mentoring programs, provide leadership training, operate a robust internship program and offer flexible work schedules, the report suggests.

“Agencies that focus on meaningful performance, productivity and positive working conditions are increasingly seen as being a ‘best place to work’ or an employer of choice,” the report states.

Beyond recommending specific retention strategies, the partnership advised agencies on ways to determine what strategies would be the most effective. These steps include analyzing attrition rates, reviewing current retention techniques, identifying and implementing new retention strategies, and evaluating results to improve programs and achieve agency goals.

Reader comments

Fri, Jan 21, 2011 Birmingham, AL

My wife is a gov't employee and she makes 36k a year. It has taken her almost 13 years to get there and almost 1/3 of that goes to pay insurance premiums for a family of four. I can see not getting a pay raise, but how does preventing her from having a cost of living increase put a dent in the budget. Is inflation going down. Why doesn't this effect congress, federal court employees, and gov't contractors.

Fri, Jan 21, 2011 Albert Richmond, VA

I see no risk of people not applying for federal jobs, even if pay is frozen or cut and retirement benefits are severely curtailed. Comments like the one about "an employee walkaway" show that federal workers live in la-la land. I know people who are supporting a wife and 3 kids on $50,000 a year or less in the DC area, with no annual or sick leave, no health insurance, no job security at all, and an constant threat of being fired if they take 1 day off to take care of a sick child. Stop whining, feds. It's time you realized what a privileged position you have in a society that is maltreating its middle class. Actually, there is no reason federal workers should receive special treatment, is there????

Fri, Jan 21, 2011

I am sitting here reading through the article wondering if there any top IT jobs out in the civilian sector. I look to the right and there are five high paying jobs listed and tell myself. I wonder if its time to go??? Our leaders should realize that its not all bad out there for some career fields and if the don't watch it the talented IT people will walk.

Thu, Jan 20, 2011

If the purpose of a two-year pay freeze and a moratorium on hiring new federal employees is to reduce the federal budget deficit, why is the federal government worried about employees leaving. Wouldn't that reduce the federal budget deficit even more? Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Thu, Jan 20, 2011 Carol

The only retention strategy that works for me is an annual pay raise! I'm retiring.

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