Retaining Employees in Government

Let us move onto retention and no, I do not mean the liquid kind.

Be kind to yourself and retain.

I have a question that some of you may be able to comment upon and I hope for both positive and critical responses. Please be honest as you are probably not the only one with that viewpoint.

We want you, we want you as a new recruit!

You are short-staffed. The resources are available for new staff. HR recruits, screens and interviews candidates. The new hires are placed in your department. You train them. Finally, your staff have a farewell party and wish them good luck in their future endeavors.

Repeat above steps. Year after year after year.

See a pattern? Good.

The moral of this little spiel is, “Why are we training people, have them leave, then train new staff to take their place all the time!”

Systemic Issues

Within the provincial government there are several factors involved in the recruitment of personnel. The recruitment of personnel may not exceed the total number of Full Time Employees (FTE) allotted to your department (aka Headcount). The number of FTEs may also be further constrained by that B-word so beloved yet hated by management (yes you guessed it, BUDGET!).

Furthermore, imposed factors like hiring freezes or constraints like let us say for example only one FTE may be hired for every two FTEs that retire from service. These are recruiting impediments. When the government is trying to paint itself as a ‘preferred employer of choice’ you probably will NOT see that part of their recruitment or marketing strategy.


Let us look at employee retention from several angles from start to end.

Once they are your employees, do not lose sight of that fact. They are your employees! They will need specific mandatory training, orientation, guidance, management and leadership as well as career development. I must admit that when I first started with government, that there was no one to give me guidance nor management in the GIS field as I was the GIS resource for an entire department. It took me months to get up to speed and anticipate my co-workers’ needs let alone familiarize myself with the inner workings of government on the side.

It was the inner workings of government that I felt drawn toward. I joined committees and organizations that were focused on improving government processes and employee relations. My participation in these groups was allowed so long as it did not impact my daily operations schedule.

Train them

Management should consider the participation in such groups as career development and not pigeon hole their staff into only participating in the roles they were hired for. Nor should staff be forced into taking training that is of benefit to the departmental program for this would not be employee career development but more geared toward leaving a legacy or kingdom building that is of little or no benefit to the employee.

In the past, I would take GovLoop training modules ( that pertained to Health and GIS. Whenever I was able to fit them into my schedule I would then try to apply these lessons learned into my own daily operations and strategies.

The Upside – they gave excellent opportunity to learn new techniques from people with subject expertise at no cost to my training budget.

The Downside – there was no downside to using GovLoop. Just exposure to new ways of doing things and ideas.

The Office

Let us say you are a field operator. Are you given the correct gear for operating in the field? Safety training? Vehicle? Communications gear? All those little things that you need to keep yourself in one piece yet be effective in the field. Yes?

But if you are not a field operator, let us take your office into account. On Day One, was your office equipment ready? Did you have a user account and building access ready for you? Did you have all the paperwork ready to fill out? Where are the washrooms and kitchen facilities by the way? If I bike to work are there showers? Is there a wellness room? Is there a gym provided? Would anyone be interested in starting a walking group at lunchtime? Or maybe there’s somewhere people can play music together at lunch?

Get up. Go to work. Sleep. Repeat.

What it comes down to is what do people find interesting that they would want to keep coming back to that job every day. If they don’t want to, you are going to find retaining them difficult if not impossible. Ask yourself and your staff what would make their jobs easier. Is work-life balance what they seek? Maybe join an organization like IPAC ( or be able to work on their career development as an up and coming business analyst ( for a few hours each week.

Telecommuting is often a hot topic as are flexible hours. Arrange social events – celebrate the staff birthdays or recognize days important to your culturally diverse personnel. Recognition for success will go a long way and your leadership skills will prove more valuable than your management training for creating a strong team. Be a mentor.

Challenge us

The NS Government has two programs that offer staff a unique opportunity to gain experience in areas they may not gain in their job class.


iNSpire is a cross-departmental, online platform that will connect individuals across the organization through mentorship and short-term project opportunities – called MicroMissions. iNSpire will act as a vehicle to communicate these opportunities at an organizational level, enabling informal talent growth and mobility, and supporting a more engaged and innovative public service.

Whether you’re a leader who wants to bring people together with different backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives, or an employee looking an innovative way to grow and develop, everyone will benefit from iNSpire!

Policy Hack

GoverNEXT, the Future Leaders Network of Nova Scotia, and Nova Scotia Regional Group of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC NS) have partnered together to create Policy Hack: Imagine. Innovate. Impact. The competition aims to strengthen the collaboration and problem-solving capacity of the public service in Nova Scotia by providing participants an opportunity to creatively address complex problems within multi-disciplinary teams of federal, municipal and provincial public servants. Policy Hack was inspired by, and has been largely modeled on, a similar public service case competition held by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2015 in cooperation with IPAC.

The case competition provides an innovative opportunity for learning and collaboration between participants whose day to day roles typically would not bring them together. By bringing professionals from varied academic and work backgrounds together with more experienced, senior government officials, the event will provide its participants with a deeper experience in issue analysis and problem solving, as well as an excellent networking opportunity. Case ideas are selected from federal, provincial, and municipal governments to give the event a high degree of authenticity. Teams are provided senior level coaches and advisors to assist the process and provide valuable networking opportunities. – Interview with Andrew Noseworthy, Policy Hack Team – Policy Hack Info Session

PS: it’s a whole lot of fun too!

Most of us do not eat out for lunch

Remember to make sure that your staff are okay with the venue choice. I had executives choose high-end restaurants that most of their staff could not afford to eat there. Not fun.

If you want to talk about the $20k you just spent on a luxury week in Napa Valley, please don’t boast about it in the staff kitchen as we put our lunches in the refrigerator. You may as well tell us  ‘Let them eat cake.’

If you view only your staff as tools, be forewarned. Tools break and get worn down. People are not tools but when they get worn down and break, the consequences may prove most dire.

Bon Voyage!

Okay here’s a thought. Keep them on if you can! Don’t waste all the time and training plus they have already been integrated into your staff.

If they are on term, it may be possible to make them permanent, but that pathway should be planned out far in advance. Depending on hiring policy, terms may be able to become permanent.

Perhaps bring them back as contractors?

We want to retain the best people, but our hands are often tied by bureaucratic red tape. Let’s put our heads together and cut the tape!

Now, where did I put my scissors….

Ken Lee is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is currently a GIS Officer with the GeoNOVA Secretariat of the Province of Nova Scotia with interests in innovation, leadership, policy, diversity, employee engagement, ITIL and Lean 6 Sigma for government. His next step? Let’s find out! You can read his posts here.

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply