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One Person Can Make a Difference

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

By Anna Marie Schuh
February 25, 2022

What do people want in an employer? This is a question that all government managers try to answer since answering this question is the first step in finding excellent employees. This question is particularly important today because much of the government workforce has been depleted as a result of the previous administration’s hostile environment and vacancy lapsing, the pandemic and general government workforce aging. A good understanding of what people want in an employer will allow government managers to highlight factors that are already present in government work so that they can attract excellent workers.

The Gallup organization noted that Gen Z, millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers all had the same two expectations from their workplaces: an employer that cares about their well-being, and ethical leaders. Gen Z and young millennials also wanted diversity and inclusivity. Older millennials wanted transparency while Gen X and Baby Boomers added financial stability.

The government has a good record in all these expectations. Regarding an employer that cares about employee well-being, public employers provide multiple benefits supportive of employee well-being. Most offer pensions and group health and life insurance. Student loans can be forgiven with some public sector employment. Other benefits typically available to government workers include flexible spending accounts, employee assistance programs and child and dependent care assistance. The Federal government offers additional employee support such as leave sharing and benefits related to childbirth, adoption and foster parenting. Many private sector companies also support government workers by offering them product discounts.

Beyond benefits that demonstrate concern about employee well-being, workplace activities support this concern perspective. For example, the Federal government has allowed alternative work schedules since the 1980s and telework since the 1990s. Many government organizations offer job sharing or part time work. These benefit types provide employees workplace flexibilities that support their personal needs. Finally, most government employers provide formal and informal training that can enhance employee careers.

The public has a complex view of government and ethical leadership, which recent government scandals complicate further. Still, managers can provide a positive ethical perspective. For example, while trust in government is low, most citizens believe government can best deal with such things as personal data security, improving health care and providing data through websites. So, while it is difficult to support the argument that government has more ethical leadership than the private sector, citizens look to government as the most trusted provider of certain services. Turning again to the Gallop statistics, some responses suggest that citizens believe government is more likely to have ethical leadership than the private sector. For example, in 2021, Gallop found that trust in big business was 9 percent. For the same year, Gallop found higher trust in the presidency (16 percent) which provides Executive Branch leadership and the military (37 percent). In addition to citizens’ belief that government is a better provider of some services and government generally is more trustworthy than business, the presence of strong ethical codes in government professional associations (e.g., American Society for Public Administration, International City/Managers Association) adds support to the argument that ethical leadership is a strong feature in government employment.

With respect to diversity and inclusivity, generally government has a better record than the private sector. More specifically, top senior government officials include 34 percent women and 22 percent people of color. This contrasts private sector percentages of 21 and 15 percent, respectively. These higher percentages receive support from specific government efforts. For example, at the Federal level, the President outlined actions to improve diversity in a June 2021 executive order. Many states have developed their own diversity and inclusion initiatives, e.g., Delaware, Washington, New Hampshire, Illinois. While the government record needs further improvement, government managers have a persuasive argument that the government workplace is more diverse and inclusive than the private sector workplace.

Transparency is intrinsically a government trait. The Federal government and all fifty states have sunshine laws which require public meetings. They all have freedom of information laws that require public disclosure of documents. The Federal government requires disclosure of employee salaries and many states make employee salary and pension information public. Information that is important to both the public and the employee is readily available in the government environment.

With respect to financial stability, while no organization is free from cutbacks, government cutbacks tend to occur less frequently and when they happen, they tend to provide employees more notice and more rights. More notice allows the affected employee to better plan next steps. The reduced cutback frequency together with more notice and more rights can be an effective argument for those potential candidates looking for financial stability.

Knowing what people want in an employer helps the government manager recruit excellent employees. Fortunately, government employers can compete in the factors that individuals want in their work. President John Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and every person should try.” Public managers need to try and find those people who can make a difference.

Author: Anna Marie Schuh is currently an Associate Professor and the MPA Program Director at Roosevelt University in Chicago where she teaches political science and public administration. She retired from the federal government after 36 years. Her last federal assignment involved management of the Office of Personnel Management national oversight program. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: profschuh.

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