Welles: Fixing the workplace

The next generation of federal IT workers seeks organizations that value employees

Like it or not, the federal technology workforce is aging. If the retirements projected for the next decade occur, government agencies will experience severe shortages across information technology competencies. So, how is the government doing in its efforts to recruit, retain and develop new employees to fill the gaps?

In general, employers are not doing a good job of retaining employees, said David Sirota, an industrial psychologist and co-author of the book “The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want.”

He said managers keep destroying new hires’ enthusiasm. And it’s not easy to get work done or stay at a job if you are no longer excited about it.

The book’s findings are based on surveys Sirota and his co-authors conducted from 2001 through 2004, mostly at Fortune 1000 companies and some federal agencies.

The employees Sirota surveyed had a job satisfaction of 80 out of 100 points in their first six months on the job. A year later, that satisfaction had declined by 14 percent.

Sirota and his colleagues attribute the decline to management policies that are geared toward the 5 percent of employees who are allergic to work, not the 95 percent who are good workers.

“That makes the work environment oppressive for all,” Sirota said.

“People are often treated indifferently, almost like paper clips,” he added. “It’s hard for people to be enthusiastic about an organization that is not enthusiastic about them.”

For technology workers, special frustrations can develop. IT employees might want to do high-quality, timely and cost-effective work, but users of the technology have changing priorities and demands, which require difficult adjustments. The pressures on technology professionals and users can create negative stereotypes of one another.

“People come to work to work,” Sirota said. “The battles are frustrating.”

Career development is one answer to the retention problem. “Organizations with high employee enthusiasm regard employees as real assets and invest in them,” Sirota said.

Training that gives workers leading-edge skills benefits them and the organization. In short, if you are looking for ways to build loyalty and enthusiasm among employees to keep them on the job, try to satisfy what matters most to them.

Recent legislation may help managers do that. Under the Workforce Flexibility Act of 2004, expanded retention bonuses take effect May 1, 2005. The law permits agencies to pay a retention bonus to a current employee who possesses high qualifications to encourage him or her to stay in the federal government.

Agencies will be able to pay exceptional recruits bonuses of nearly 100 percent of their starting salaries.

Managers need to recognize that most employees are reasonable people. They need to feel valued, and they require social contact or camaraderie to be productive.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.


  • Social network, census

    5 predictions for federal IT in 2017

    As the Trump team takes control, here's what the tech community can expect.

  • Rep. Gerald Connolly

    Connolly warns on workforce changes

    The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee's Government Operations panel warns that Congress will look to legislate changes to the federal workforce.

  • President Donald J. Trump delivers his inaugural address

    How will Trump lead on tech?

    The businessman turned reality star turned U.S. president clearly has mastered Twitter, but what will his administration mean for broader technology issues?

  • Login.gov moving ahead

    The bid to establish a single login for accessing government services is moving again on the last full day of the Obama presidency.

  • Shutterstock image (by Jirsak): customer care, relationship management, and leadership concept.

    Obama wraps up security clearance reforms

    In a last-minute executive order, President Obama institutes structural reforms to the security clearance process designed to create a more unified system across government agencies.

  • Shutterstock image: breached lock.

    What cyber can learn from counterterrorism

    The U.S. has to look at its experience in developing post-9/11 counterterrorism policies to inform efforts to formalize cybersecurity policies, says a senior official.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group