Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Public Sector Recruitment and Retention: A Workforce Permanently Changed by COVID-19

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

By Richard Daniels
October 2, 2023

Note: The following piece was originally published in the Spring 2023 edition of the PA Times Magazine.

Popular clichés aside, the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the landscape of the U.S. workforce. As public, private and nonprofit employers are keenly aware, enticing workers into the workplace has become more difficult. During the past two years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported varying degrees and levels of Americans quitting their jobs, whether for fear of the virus, a reordering of priorities or their desire for other opportunities. Those who remain have been presented a mountain of opportunities— with alluring flexibilities, benefits and financial gain, notwithstanding inflationary and economic headwinds. If the public sector wants to become a true beacon for top talent, public administrators must rethink how we envision the workplace, both in environment and benefits, to recruit and retain top talent.

Mobility and Job Flexibility

The most widely publicized change has been employers becoming far more flexible about where work can be performed. During the pandemic, many private-sector employers moved to a work-from home platform, a balancing effort to keep employees engaged while acknowledging the need for everyone to focus on their and their families’ safety. The public sector has been slow to respond, mainly because many public organizations have operated on the assumptions that the work they performed could not be done remotely or their governing body did not support the practice. The public sector was caught off guard and placed in a position that made it difficult to react as quickly as the private sector. To prepare themselves for the future, public administrators should conduct assessments to determine the jobs and tasks that can be performed remotely, as well as to create positions designed to be remote. Doing so will better attract a section of the workforce that may never want to return to a regular in-person position.

Flexibility in hours can capture individuals who value greater balance in their home life and the jobs they perform. Public administrators need to find new avenues in defining the term “full time employee;” it may not be a 40-hour per week worker. Additional opportunities for 30-35-hour per week jobs would allow for a greater number of applicants. Public administrators disregard a large section of the workforce when they fail to look at mobility and flexibility opportunities; and, they most likely will continue to struggle with filling positions.

Envisioning How Performance Is Assessed

Standardized employee evaluations are a cookie cutter method of assessing job performance for individuals holding very different roles. Assessing performance needs to be tailored to the specific
job and divided by roles performed remotely or in the office for those jobs. When a social worker and clerical support staff have the same evaluation form, it sends the message that their performance is
not valued. Public administrators must ensure that evaluations are timely and provide an honest picture of the employee’s performance. Simply assessing their on-time arrival, the quantity of their work
output and their ability to follow directions does not show value for the things that an organization truly expects from its employees. Employees in this new workforce value evaluations that explore a holistic view of their performance, including communication skills, empathy for internal and external customers and displaying the organization’s values.

Communication and Engagement

Research shows that remote work often can have a negative impact on social connectedness. Public
administrators need to envision how they will change their methods of communication and engagement to combat this reality. Organizations must ensure engagement becomes not only an organizational practice; it must adopt engagement and communication as an organizational value. Those that do that can utilize their values to help guide decisions and ensure how engagement and communication will be incorporated into the decision-making process. Public administrators should be mindful that traditional methods of engagement may not be viable or as effective in this new environment.

Retention Efforts

Shrugging off prior retention practices is vital. Those intrinsically drawn to public sector employment no longer stay because of the retirement benefits. After the “Great Resignation,” government entities need to embrace the idea that those in the Baby Boomer generation do not disproportionately
comprise the majority of the workforce. What once appealed to workers is not as appealing to the next
generation moving into the workforce. Job flexibility, appreciation for skillsets, organic organization
structures, affordable health care and incentives like student loan payment reimbursements are the wave of the most appealing benefits that an employer can provide. Clutching to old ideals and the idea that being a good steward of public funds is spending the least amount possible on benefits is a death sentence. Instead, being a good steward of public funds is now characterized as finding the best candidates for the jobs for which you are recruiting and keeping that person healthy and happy in their role. Public administrators need to take inventory of their organizational values and ask themselves: Do we lose a greater amount of public funds by paying better benefits or losing top talent?

Moving forward, public administrators must look carefully at how they deliver on their organization’s mission and values. Simply allowing the pandemic to pass without making concrete changes is a missed opportunity, one that will be detrimental to future recruitment and retention. Public administrators enter this profession to make a difference in our communities. Ensuring their organization is primed to pivot and respond is the best way to meet this goal. Developing methods to create a work environment that is sought after—not one years behind in flexibility, performance assessment, engagement and retention—will create a lasting impact on the communities we serve.

Author: Richard Daniels is program manager for the Central California County of Stanislaus. He manages programs for employment services and subsidized child care. His nearly 20 years in the public sector have spanned social services programs and public sector management. He can be reached at [email protected].

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *