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Bad Media or Bad Government: What is the Problem with Recruiting and Retaining?

Federal News Radio 1500 AM recently posted an interview with Young Government Leader’s Vice President, Dave Uejio. Dave candidly discussed the challenges of recruiting and retaining the next generation of government employees.
I was shocked to see some of the follow-up comments posted on the website. From personal experience, I know that seeking a position in the Federal Government is a daunting task (one at which I’ve still had no success), but I still haven’t developed the negative, “give up”, “life is better in the private sector”, attitude that seems to be reflected in the comments below.
However, from the “retaining” standpoint, I have heard many Young Govies state that they are only staying in the government for three years before seeking employment in the private sector. Three years usually grants an individual “Federal Status” and therefore may make them eligible for non-competitive positions.
I would assume that some transfer out of government because of the pay, or the fact that promotion is not based on performance. However, in contrast to the statements below, I don’t believe that those who stay are the “lowest performers”, but instead the most dedicated to public service (at least one can hope).
So you tell me and the rest of the world…. Take the Poll! What is wrong with recruiting and retaining in the federal sector?
But if they are not hiring – obscurechemist
“all of this talk is a waste of everybody’s time. Last June my son earned a Master’s Degree in international development (w. very high grades). Since then he has tracked all job openings in the Federal Government. No hiring. No hiring. No hiring. And now there is talk of a 5-year pay freeze, and furloughs! Hey good luck with that next generation. Ha.”
Planning on leaving government within 2 years – Bill L
“I have been working for the Federal government for almost a year now yet I have not received an official badge ID. This is only one of many examples of red tape and bureaucracy that I am not able to tolerate. I came into the Federal government optimistic of making a difference and public service. While working I have since changed my viewpoint due to the difficulties I have encountered. Agencies should be worried most about keeping new hires, they inject a level of enthusiasm and energy not seen in existing employees. The overall attrition rate in government is low but unfortunately this may be a bad thing. High performing employees leave within two years when they find more enticing offers from the private industry. Those that stay in the government are most likely the low performers unable to find jobs outside of government where it is more competitive and talent is judged. Solutions to improve government would involve implementing some practices from the private industry. – Encourage competition in the workplace. Fire the bottom 5% of performers, this is actually generous given the reputation for Jack Welch the former CEO of GE known to fire the bottom 10% performers. – Empower workers, managers need to be effective in identifying high performers and rewarding them accordingly. – Eliminate the GS pay scale it is communism. No matter how hard I work I will be promoted at the same rate of my co-workers. Performance is not rewarded. – Adopt pay bands to reward workers that are valuable. – Do not automatically grant grade increases to everyone in a career ladder.”
Harsh, but – obscurechemist
“it is true that in my career as a Fed, performance was the last thing considered for awards and promotions. I thought it was just NIH, with its 17th century physician-priest hierarchy, but maybe it is more widespread.”
Hmm… – Greenfield
“Let’s see: We have a Government that 1. won’t be offering any pay raises for the next two or five years, 2. is continually portrayed by media and Congress as being impersonal, lazy, incompetent, and too expensive, 3. might have its health care and retirement benefits slashed, 4. has an Executive which will gladly sell out fed employees to make transactional legislative deals with the Republicans, 5. is constantly being told that they need to “do more, with less”, and 6. typically rewards its hardest working employees with —– more hard work. What talented, energetic, and well educated young person wouldn’t want to work in these conditions? The G better figure this one out…..once the “millenials” figure out that their contibutions will be limited due to agency policy and procedure, idiotic management or restrained budgets, they will quickly fly the coop assuming they come in in the first place.”

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Candace Riddle

Personally I think it is a “media problem”. Yup…I’m blaming the media. As a matter of fact I saw a bumper sticker this morning that may apply: “I don’t believe…in the liberal media”.

Stephen Peteritas

Alright here’s my long opinion… as in most situations it’s a combination of both. So basically the media kissed gov’t butt all the way to Nixon and the gov’t threw the media a bone every so often and in turn the media looked the other way on things for instance FDR’s condition and JFK’s midnight rendezvouses. And by no surprise gov’t was looked upon rather well and a honorable job by a majority of the population. Well then Nixon went and ruined for everyone.

After the Nixon debacle the media realized it had a lot to gain by exposing things in gov’t that it had previously looked the other way on and gov’t realized that the media could really burn them and it created a very stand off relationship between the two.

Yes both government and media have changed since then and I would say government for the better and media for the worse but there’s still a massive divide between the two and by nature they are very stand offish to one another. In journalism school you’re taught not to trust the government and in certain policy arenas you’re taught to watch out for journalists. Until both parties start to work together again the perception of both will continue to suffer. By no means am I asking journalists to report dishonesties but rather to look at gov’t with a realistic perspective and think about how hard the job really is.

Lost in that response is the fact that people are to blame as well. Some people like to view the media as puppet masters but that’s not the case at all, the media is actually the puppet. If people would stop eating up bad journalism is would cease to exist after it’s a business and they have to make what the consumer wants. The number 1 reason for the shift in journalism today is because people want crap journalism and gobble it up like it’s the last thing at the table.

Peter Sperry

One of the colonists complaints against King George in the Declaration of Independence —

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”

Bashing government employees is nothing new. You can find reference to similar complaints going back to the Babylonians. Somehow we always seem to muddle through. Although the period in China when emporers buried bureaucrats alive for annoying them was a little rough.

John Evans

I have worked for IRS for 4 1/2 years, and have received a performance award every year, so it is not true that the high performers leave. In my experience, the main reason new hires leave is because of their own unrealistic expectations, coupled with the demonization of government workers in the media and by craven politicians. My observation is that new hires, and especially millenials, seem to think that they have special knowledge and abilities that far exceed the seasoned workers already on the job, and they seem to think they should be promoted immediately into supervisory positions. Many are not skilled at following procedure and seem to resent any criticism of their performance. As an OJI ( on the job instructor ), I saw these characteristics in many a new hire training class. The pay freeze, relatively low pay compared to private industry, and climate of hatred towards government workers in the media and political discourse are also factors. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the GS system-it is a vital protection against favoritism and political interference. Is Federal employment perfect ? Of course not. If you expect instant gratification and are unwilling to follow directions and adhere to procedure and policy, I suggest you are not well suited for government employment.

Candace Riddle

@Stephen – interesting theory when it comes to bad press. Wondering…are you watching BBC or CNN for coverage on the Egyptian crisis? I considered switching the channel to BBC last night. Wondering if we’re getting the whole story here, or even if it is blown up a bit. Hmm.

Stephen Peteritas

@Candace I’m sure we’re getting a sensationalized version. And as far as US News I always try to get it from the BBC because at least I don’t have to deal with partisan opinions then. What’s interesting is that CNN and BBC have pretty much exact opposite ways to piecing together a story in the way they train journalists to edit and shoot.

Amanda Parker

From all of the comments within the post and in response it is clear that there are pros and cons to becoming a civil servant, but as a master’s student with loads of debt I can’t wait for agencies to decide if they are hiring AND wait to find out if they think I’m best qualified. I need a job. The hiring process is certainly a hurdle, “but if they are not hiring…” what’s the point? Moreover, it does sting when I go home for the holidays and my family are all sitting around the table railing on “the government” for being bloated, lazy and wasteful, and it hurts when I hear that message portrayed in the media, but that will not stop me from pursuing my passion for public service. Graduating into a climate where no one is hiring, however, certainly might get in the way.

@Candice and @Stephen: I have witnessed fascinating coverage of the events in Egypt on Al-Jazeera streaming online in English (a link is available from cspan.org)

Tim Evans

I believe John Evans has a point here, but, I would turn it on its head: milenials are indeed disappointed to find they’re under-valued/under-used; they *want* to contribute, but the long Federal apprenticeship is ultimately discouraging and they get frustrated and go elsewhere.

Candace Riddle

@Tim – Im going to have to echo “under-used”. Millenials really get a sense of feeling valued by being used. Lets face it…we spend tons of money on college, we come out geared up ready to go, educated with the latest and greatest…ready to serve…

We are the most efficient resource the government has. Entry level pay and highly educated, fresh ideas…We might just need a little direction and polishing from those that know how to utilize our untamed ambition and passion for public service. Hence the value of offering to mentor us! It is a win-win for all!

Neil Tambe

There’s a lot that’s problematic about recruiting and retaining, speaking tactically. And, OPM/White House has issued guidance about fixing this, etc.

It’s a difficult nut to crack, too. I think it’s especially tough because we think about recruiting and retaining as a slio-able activity or process. Really though, these issues are inextricably linked with job roles, pay, recognition, mission, organizational structure, and a host of other organizational management considerations. Trying to address recruitment and retention independently of those things is treating the symptoms instead of the real problem. Admittedly, it’s really hard.

If anyone wants to chat further offline or brainstorm solutions, I’d love to. Some friends and I at work spend a lot of time working on these sorts of issues and it would be great to chat with folks outside our team…we’re really energized by it!

Candace Riddle

@Neil – I’ve just completed an M.A. in Diplomacy where I took quite an interest in cross-cultural communication and organizational theory. Looking at things from an academic standpoint is one thing, but if you really want some answers I would be happy to get a group of young govies together for coffee to tee up this issue. In particular, we have a great group of folks at Young Government Leaders, who I’m sure, would love to help you brainstorm. Shoot me a msg with your e-mail and we can talk offline.

John Evans

I would somewhat agree with Tim Evans-the apprenticeship is long. There are valid reasons for this, at least in the IRS. We do not use the ” latest and greatest ” technologies, so someone fresh from college is at no advantage and holds no special value for the Service. It takes about 3 years of training and experience to become sufficiently knowledgeable and versed in tax law and the procedures mandated by the Internal Revenue Code to be of much use in the account management area. New hires cannot be utilized for account management as they are simply not experienced enough to be used for account adjustments and interpretation of tax law. There is no substitute for experience and no shortcut. Eagerness and passion are of little practical value, at least at the beginning.

Candace Riddle

@John – Experience is important, but don’t be so quick to discount the practical value of passion. Passion in any position will encourage a new employee to stick with the apprenticeship and bring innovative ideas to the table. If you shut down the passion, in exchange for process, you shut down opportunity for improvement.

John Evans

I agree that passion is desirable, but it must be tempered with the realization that it will have to be sustained over the long haul. In the IRS, most of our processes are mandated by law and the IRC. All the passion in the world on the part of an employee is not going to result in an improvement in process. In many cases, that would literally take an act of Congress. Also, passion in and of itself does not necessarily equate to improvement. I have participated in the IRS employee suggestion program, and was able to see a suggested change in wording on a publication adopted. In my agency, as in many others, change occurs slowly and in small increments. Passion is good, but I don’t think passion alone is going to result in noticeable improvement.

David Kuehn

Point of clarification: Three years of service allows someone to apply for positions that are competed only among federal employees, but the positions still are competed. There are many ways in which federal positions may be advertised — public, federal only, agency only — and in many cases one position may be adverstised more than one way at the same time.

Jennifer Aragon

I can tell you one problem that I have encountered as a job applicant- agencies that do not LIST any CONTACTS for graduates/students who are interested in working for them. One agency, (the IRS) did not list any contact information for students interested in their SCEP program. All of the office numbers listed on their website are automated- you cannot reach a real person. I even reached out to a RECRUITER from this agency listed on Gov Loop and explained my dilemma asking for help. Do you know what she told me? “Contact your school”. I already tried that suggestion with no luck. These obstacles show me as that this agency does not value recruiting at all.

Mind you, the problems with obtaining information on an agency’s SCEP program is not exclusive to this one agency either- I have experienced it with MANY others.

Amanda Parker

I agree with Jennifer. As a job applicant I have done my fair share of networking and the people I know personally seem willing to keep me updated on opportunities. But generally speaking I have had very few opportunities to talk to actual recruiters (all the people are know are those currently holding the job I seek, not in a hiring position). I met two at a grad fair, with the smaller agency doing a much better job than the larger. I was left with the impression that they didn’t really need to try, we wanted them more than they needed us. Kind of upsetting. I do wonder how much of this has to do with the current budget situation and any lack of hiring.