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Becoming a Great Place to Work by Listening to Employees

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bob Lavigna
May 15, 2023

During a panel of HR directors I moderated recently, one of the topics we discussed was how employees’ expectations have changed as we emerge from the pandemic. One of the panelists remarked, “In my organization, it seems like everyone is willing to say anything to anyone anytime.”

Maybe a bit of hyperbole but this comment is a symptom of our new post-pandemic world of work. The balance of power has shifted from the employer to the employee, including in government.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to illustrate the workforce crisis in government. In March 2023, there were 922,000 vacancies in state and local government but only 350,000 hires. While the private sector has recovered the jobs that businesses lost during the pandemic, the public sector has not. State and local government had 450,000 fewer employees in January 2023 than in February 2020.

According to a recent Washington Post report, the public sector workforce continues to experience “massive shortfalls.” As a result, government is “… short-staffed and struggling.”

Moreover, a MissionSquare Research Institute survey revealed that 59 percent of state and local government employees were considering leaving their jobs.

What can government do to solve the double-edged challenge of recruiting and retaining talent?

The short answer is to create and maintain a great place to work. That is, a place where employees:

  • Are engaged and feel good about their job, their contributions and their connection to mission;
  • Trust the people they work for;
  • Feel valued; and
  • Enjoy the people they work with.

Decades of research have revealed that a high level of employee engagement drives organizational success. In government, engaged employees are twice as likely to believe their organization is achieving its mission and that they can contribute to important outcomes like customer satisfaction.

Engaged employees also feel better about their personal wellbeing than disengaged employees. What happens to us at work affects how we feel about our lives in general.

Moreover, data from years of certifying organizations as great places to work by the UKG Great Place to Work® (GPTW) Institute reveals that employees in great places-certified organizations are far more positive than employees in other organizations about workplace issues that are critical for government, as the table below shows.

Employees say they …

Great Place to Work-Certified Organizations

U.S. Average

Promote their organization to family and friends​



Plan to work there for a long time



Believe their organization provides excellent customer service



Believe their organization moves fast and innovates



Are given the resources they need to do their job



It’s no surprise that these great places to work have 50 percent less turnover than other organizations.

What happens internally also affects how people outside the organization view it, thus affecting the organization’s ability to attract talent. For proof, look at the major online job sites and you’ll see reviews by employees prominently displayed next to the name of the hiring organization. Organizations with five-star employee ratings will out-recruit organizations with one-star ratings. The two employee reviews below, posted next to each organization’s job listing, are from employees in government agencies:

  • “Run fast and run far!” (one star)
  • “Truly a great experience working with people who are as passionate as I am” (five stars)

Easy to guess which is the more attractive employer.

Becoming a great place to work is easier said than done. It takes a commitment to, and focus on, the workforce.

It also takes data. I recently heard someone say, “If it’s not measured, it doesn’t matter.”

This applies to the workforce. To become a great place to work, an organization needs to understand—with data—how employees feel about their working environment. There are multiple ways to assess employees’ perceptions, including analyzing turnover and conducting stay and exit interviews. These can be important sources of data on the health of the workforce.

Employee surveys: The best source of data on the employee experience

The most comprehensive and valid way to understand and measure the employee experience is to survey employees. Asking employees how they feel about the workplace and their work experience enables the employer to understand the level of engagement in the workforce—and how to boost it. Guessing or relying on anecdotes no longer works in an era of intense competition for talent.

That’s why Great Place to Work relies on the employee survey to certify employers as great places to work. It has to be about what employees experience and believe, not what the employer thinks.

Specifically, employee surveys:

  • Are efficient and inclusive;
  • Collect consistent, reliable and valid data on how employees feel about their organization, their work, their colleagues and their bosses;
  • Are confidential; and
  • Enable the organization to benchmark survey results.

Well-designed and -administered surveys allow the jurisdiction or agency to efficiently collect comprehensive data from the entire workforce. If surveys are effectively communicated and organized, they can generate high response rates.

Surveys are also inclusive, asking all employees the same questions. This sends the important message that everyone’s voice is valued.

Most surveys, including the GPTW survey, assure employees that their answers will be confidential. This boosts both the response rate and the candor of employees’ responses.

By collecting consistent data, a jurisdiction or agency can benchmark against other organizations—and also benchmark against itself as it conducts surveys over time to determine if the needle of engagement is moving in the right direction.

“If it’s not measured, it doesn’t matter.” And nothing matters more than attracting and retaining public sector talent.

Author: Bob Lavigna is Senior Fellow – Public Sector for UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), where he advocates for, promotes and advises on effective HR practices for government. He previously was Director of the Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of Human Resources for the University of Wisconsin, Vice President – Research for the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and Director of the state of Wisconsin civil service system. Bob began his career with the U.S. Government Accountability Office.


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One Response to Becoming a Great Place to Work by Listening to Employees

  1. Kampus Terbaik Reply

    August 13, 2023 at 10:59 pm

    What are the specific challenges that the public sector faces in recruiting and retaining talent?

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