The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee held a meeting on October 22 to determine whether the government could attract and retain better employees if pay flexibility was improved. Specifically, they spoke about the energy boom in North Dakota which left the government scrambling to find employees because federal pay rates could not keep pace with the private sector, and thus employees couldn’t meet skyrocketing housing costs.
In his testimony, Bill Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said that the situation in North Dakota is indicative of a larger problem in the federal government. “No employer can expect to recruit and retain a professional and skilled workforce while failing to keep up with general pay trends,” he said, adding “It is simply a myth that the GS system does not allow agencies to reward high performance or respond to a changing recruitment and retention environment, but these…pay tools are just not being used enough. And the primary reason for that is lack of funding.”
A sudden, dramatic increase in funding for federal pay is unlikely anytime soon (although around 100,000 federal employees who reside in one of 13 new “locality pay” zones will be receiving a pay boost in January), but the fact remains that government must use everything at its disposal to attract, hire, and retain the best possible workers. Below, I’ve shared nine low- or no-cost tips on finding the best and brightest for your agency.
- Remove rigidity from your agency structure: Those entering the job force today enjoy feeling valued and having a stake in their place of employment. Ensuring that managers are visible and accessible, and that all employees can have a voice and are recognized for the work that they do, goes a long way toward keeping your workforce happy. Empower your workers by decentralizing decision-making, and show them that you trust and value their work.
- Spread the word about your open jobs: Your hiring might be done primarily through your agency website or USAJobs, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t promote your open positions on social media.
- Connect emotionally with employees: Many people desire working in a field in which they feel a sense of purpose, and government is tailor made for this. Each and every agency provides important services for the clients it serves. Share with the world what your agency is up to, profile your staff, and talk about the ways your work reaches your customers. When developing recruiting materials, or talking about your agency, be more than a boring mission statement. Getting potential employees excited about your mission is of utmost important.
- Offer clear career progression and explain how you can help: When you’re recruiting, either in person or through marketing materials, don’t just be the job opening. Sell a career path to potential employees. Talk to them about their goals, and how your agency can help them achieve them. Discuss common career paths in your agency and help them begin to envision a place for themselves.
- Diversify your project assignments: Many young workers entering the job force are driven more by the work that they do than the company for which they work. That said, retaining these employees means ensuring that they have the flexibility to work on a variety of projects that meet their interests.
- Offer in-person or virtual job shadowing: Showing someone your agency is a lot easier than telling them about it. Consider creating a “day in the life” video, or allow those in the hiring process to spend some time shadowing employees or asking questions of current employees. It will help them better understand the work environment and what is expected in various positions. This is a helpful retention tool as well—allow your current employees to shadow other positions into which they might be interested in moving.
- Create flexible jobs and an environment that matches: We have all heard about the desire for workers to have flexible work environments that include telecommuting, four-day workweeks, and varied start times. And those are great things to offer. But they become less useful if you don’t create a culture that supports these employees. If you have other employees who are constantly making comments about when someone comes in or how long their lunch was, you have to be prepared to put a stop to it. Encourage your employees to get their work done in the best way possible, rather than letting someone bully them into a 9-5 that might not fit their other family/life commitments.
- Focus on your interns: Start your recruiting activities with your interns. Help them see possible career paths and where they might fit full-time within the agency. If they have the right skills for the job, they’re the perfect job pool because they already possess some institutional knowledge. That said, when you bring in interns, work to ensure that you’ve cultivated a positive work environment for them, so that they would be excited to stay onboard.
- Connect with intrinsic motivations to join government: When you recruit, don’t focus on pay and benefits. Instead, determine what motivated the person to join government. Likely, it’s to make a difference, so make it clear how your agency is doing that every day for the customers it serves. Denver, for example, managed to convince Chipotle’s CIO to leave the private sector and come to the city by marketing it as a job in which you can truly have an impact on your community.