Drive Employee Engagement in the Public Sector


Public sector growth is often hampered by frequent and abrupt leadership changes, a complex bureaucracy and limits on financial incentives. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why Deloitte’s “Best Places to Work in Federal Government” 2015 report found that private sector employees were 18 percent more satisfied and committed to organizational goals than their public sector cohorts were.[1] To combat these figures, public sector stakeholders should place an emphasis on solving the following problems: ineffective leaders, employees’ skills not being matched to the agency’s goals, disconnect between advancement and compensation, and performance-based reviews.

To reverse course and help public agencies build an engaged, mission-oriented workforce, leaders should dedicate resources toward three initiatives.

Giving HR better tools for success

Engagement is often a mystery, but employee portals and personal profiles can help identify what your workers value, both personally and professionally. Conducting performance-based reviews can be equally insightful if done correctly. It’s important to make sure they’re frequent enough – which might differ with each agency – and that comments are gathered from a wide variety of colleagues. As a best practice, ensure that feedback is constructive (just 59% of government workers feel it is[2]), and if appropriate, provide next steps.

Another approach used to boost engagement is collaborative learning, a more informal learning solution where employees are both the teacher and the student. Utilizing social network technology, companies can foster a culture of knowledge by sharing critical information and collaboration in a cost-effective way.

Prioritize employee development and matching skills to the mission

To see a big increase in employee capabilities, productivity, and engagement, public sector leaders should be explicit in organizational strategies and have excellent communication and interpersonal skills. Employees whose leaders demonstrate these skills believe they can make significant contributions to their agency’s goals, and perhaps more importantly, have the right skills to do so. Unfortunately, attaining this has proven challenging in the public sector, as only 75 percent of workers report that their skills are being used effectively and correctly.[3]

Ensuring employees’ proficiencies are aligned to agency ambitions also improves talent mobility – workers can move into roles that are more aligned with their skills. HR pros can work with staff to place them in positions where their capabilities (and passions) are best-suited for the mission, even if that means moving employees into new roles or offering additional training.

Don’t make work feel like work

Creating a relaxing work environment is critical to driving engagement, but stakeholders will first need employees to indicate what they value. As mentioned above, worker profiles and performance management meetings are big steps in determining this. And changes don’t have to break the budget (or bottom line). Implementing flex-time and other work-life balance initiatives, such as “summer hours,” where employees can leave early on certain days, are universally loved. Less than 60 percent of public sector workers feel they have good work-life balance, and positive team interactions are at 63 percent, with the 2009 ‘peak’ at just over 71 percent.[4]

Small changes to the work environment can make the office feel less like a nightmare of administrative duties and more like a place where employees can enjoy their work and be themselves. This leads to a big increase in engagement and retention rates.

3 quick tips for driving engagement

  • Establish clear lines of communication
  • Make success transparent and agency-wide
  • Embrace talent-building technologies

Driving public sector employee engagement is critical to mission success, and is easily attainable with the right approach. Give your HR team the performance management tools they need. Next, make a strong effort to match employees’ skills to the agency’s goals. And don’t forget to have a little fun while you’re at it. Creating a positive office culture can help boost employee productivity and improve engagement.



[3] “Best Places to Work in Federal Government” primer, Date: December 2013


Jim Gill is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Katarina Hong

This is great advice for employee engagement! I especially liked how you gave examples of how to improve on each one of your tips. Thanks for sharing!