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OPM Guidance On Retaining Employees

This morning I took a look at the HR Flexibilities and Authorities Handbook produced by OPM. The handbook has a lot of great information for federal HR professionals. One section in particular caught my eye and is an important read for people across all sectors and all levels of government. This section provided insights on how to retain employees. As more and more Baby Boomers hit retirement age, there is a pressing need for government to retain its most talented employees. The handbook also states that government, “The Federal civil service has twice as many workers over age 45 (60 percent) as the private sector (31 percent).”

The section “Keeping Current Employees Onboard,” listed dozens of reasons what talented employees look for in their career, and reasons to stay at an organization. The section can be found below.

Keeping Current Employees Onboard

Many retention strategies focus primarily on salary to retain quality employees. However, recent Corporate Leadership Council research findings conclude pay was the least important reason cited by employees as to why they continue to work for a particular company. Employees surveyed gave the following reasons in priority order:

  • Career growth
  • Learning and development
  • Exciting work and challenge
  • Meaningful work
  • Making a difference and a contribution
  • Working with great people
  • Being part of a team
  • Having a good boss
  • Recognition for work well done
  • Autonomy and control over one’s work
  • Flexible work hours and dress code
  • Fair pay and benefits

I think considering strategies for each of these ideas is important for agencies. The challenge is that each employee will be motivated differently, and in order to keep talented employees, managers will have to understand what is driving the employees motivation. Likely, a manager will have to do a mix of the strategies and have an open communication policy with the employee, to avoid having them leave the agency in hopes of advancing their career.


What strategies would you add to the list?



This post is brought to you by the GovLoop Human Resources and Training Council. The mission of this council is to provide you with information and resources to help improve government. Visit the GovLoop Human Resources & Training Council to learn more.

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Profile Photo Stacey Swanson

Going to a Results-Only Work Environment would take care of most items on OPMs list. Will they be able to set this standard, or will it come from another agency?

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Profile Photo Henry Brown

More stuff from headquarters….

UNFORTUNATELY IMO a significant portion of managers (especially first line) are not terribly concerned about keeping others on the team but are more concerned about their own future whether it means staying with Federal Service or retiring or ????

would offer that, although not mentioned directly in the list, good/excellent communications should be more than implied.

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Profile Photo Dorothy Ramienski Amatucci

I would add BYOT, when possible. I think letting employees get their own work done with their own tools not only demonstrates trust, but might encourage innovation, as well. But I understand not every agency could do this for a variety of reasons.

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Profile Photo Terrence Hill

This is actually a very comprehensive list, consistent with Daniel Pink’s “Drive” principles of Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose. Luckily, we have a comprehensive annual instrument to measure these factors – the Employee Viewpoint Survey. This year’s survey will go out in the next few weeks and will be a “census” survey of all Feds. Management just needs to pay attention and take corrective action based on feedback from their employees. It’s as simple (and as hard) as that!

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Profile Photo Peter Sperry

Part of the problem is that too many organizations stifle the top three on the list as part of retaining their best employees. How many GS-12s to 14s are held in their current positions long after they should have moved on to a 15 or SL position at another agency? They are not prohibited from applying, but they are not encouraged or supported in the effort and often find it difficult to get the type of training or special project assignments that would make them marketable outside thier current agency. When people move on to bigger and better jobs (albeit outside the organization) their career grows, it opens opportunities for people behind them and it shows what is possible. When they are held in current positions with little or no help to move up, their career stagnates, they clog the ladder for others and people become discouraged. The military and foriegn service rotate people in assignments regularly with an up or out policy which clearly communicates to both top performers and bottom feeders that the desirability of their next assignment will be determined by the quality of output in their current one. Too many civilian agencies allow people to rise to a glass ceiling and stay there; never advancing as a reward for good performance or being separated for failure to produce results. OPM needs to look at how DOD and the State Department have formalized the concept of rotational assignments and see if some of these practices can be applied in other agencies.

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Profile Photo Scott Span

Interesting, I hadn’t seen that document. Thanks for sharing, I’ll have to take a detailed review. At a glance I do find it promising and interesting that OPM is taking a more private sector view in many ways, particularly regarding engagement and recruitment (referral bonus etc.). The FedStats on age/generation show that government is facing a major issue with retirement and knowledge transfer. If you haven’t seen the Bridging the Generation Gap presentation from NGG10 you may want to take look.

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Profile Photo Janina Rey Echols Harrison

It is such a lovely list, I want that job! I’m with Henry and Peter on what goes wrong. Terry brings up that we have the employee survey (took mine the other day) which should help change things. Unfortunately, it appears things in my neck of the woods are getting worse rather than improving since the last one. More management is taking training, but the people being promoted are just “Yes” persons. Managers screaming at employees and calling them names. I told a temp manager last year not to do something because it was questionable and was told that managers want “positive” employees! OK, I am positive you are going to jail if you do that!? Then there was the lecture from same that employees refusing to do what their managers/supervisors tell them can be brought up for insubordination. Pretty sure that was aimed my way.

They are training management but they are just going back to what they were doing. (Not to mention that they chose the term, Executive Leadership Team, which employees term ELITE. Hardly has a team building with the rest of the employees sound.) If someone talks to them about the training program, I hear them spew the info they learned back perfectly. The behaviors haven’t changed. I know in another discussion about much the same issue, the young and innovative must leave or be absorbed. Absorbed, usually because they succumb to or are beaten into submission by inappropriate management syles. Watching promotions that aren’t based on innovation or hard work. Or in my case, all the men received very high reviews, all the women received fully successful. I feel like I am working with cavemen sometimes. Not a progressive bunch.

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Profile Photo Kitty Wooley

This is a great list, but it’s all very tactical. Although I’m sure the following was outside the scope of the Corporate Leadership Council’s research, I would add:

  • Attentiveness to specific employee feedback about organizational dysfunction

I’ve seen many competent employees leave organizations that fail to address dysfunction systemically, either by not valuing employee feedback about it enough or by attempting to apply remedies within the silos rather than enterprisewide.

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