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Revitalizing the Federal Workforce

Managers as a whole are an integral part of the employee experience. We remember the good ones – and we really remember the bad ones. Because they are so involved in day-to-day activities, the way your manager treats you can drastically impact how you view your workplace. How leaders manage talent is thus integral to recruiting and retaining the best possible talent available.

It may not come as a surprise, but government leaders are not managing talent very well. According to data from the 2014 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey, the public sector falls far behind their private sector counterparts in recruitment and retention of youth into the federal workforce. And the gap is only growing.

What can government do to revitalize its workforce? Sean Morris, Human Capital Lead for Deloitte, has a few ideas.

In an interview with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program, Morris outlined the basic steps government leaders can take to close the talent management gaps between the private and public sector.

The population of personnel under 30 years old in government has declined significantly in recent years. Since 2010, the number of personnel under 30 years old working in government has declined by 45,000. “That’s from 9.1 percent of the [workforce] population down to 6.6 percent of the population,” Morris said. By contrast, 23.5 percent of the private sector workforce is under 30 years old.

“[Youth] are the lifeblood of an organization, and are going to be required, particularly as we continue to see an increase in retirements in the federal government,” Morris said.

The numbers are staggering, but what’s the root of the problem? According to Morris, the government employee experience is at the heart of the millennial exodus from the federal workforce over the past few years. He argued that results from the survey are mixed, but generally point to a downward trend in employee satisfaction over time.

“In the human capital world, we talk about the honeymoon year, [which] refers to that first year of employment. The level of engagement of federal employees, how pleased they are about their surroundings, drops by 10 points after the first year that they’ve been employed in a federal agency,” Morris explained.

Without question, federal employees typically love and are passionate about what they do. However, data indicate that many younger employees do not feel actively engaged by their managers. According to the survey, only “47 percent of those federal employees surveyed reported being satisfied with the training that they were receiving. That’s a full fifty-three percent that weren’t satisfied with the training,” Morris said. Compared to a 62 percent satisfaction score on average in the private sector, federal organizations are drastically behind in employee engagement.

“When you take a look at that engagement and recognition, what we find is that these are critical areas that all leaders in the federal organization need to be thinking about,” Morris said. “Our federal colleagues are often deploying training in the same way that they have been for the last 15 to 20 years. There are many new types of training modes and mediums out there that younger generations are very keen to use,” Morris said.

The problems with employee engagement are apparent. What can government leaders do to attract young people? “The best piece advice I could have for our leaders is to be incredibly hands on in the recruiting process,” Morris said. Leaders should also be a part of employee training. “Be in the room, be present, be a part of the face to face [interaction],” Morris said. Change the types of training being provided, use newer technology, and be more actively involved in the talent management process.

“There is an expectation with this generation that these are norms,” Morris argued. Individualized attention, constructive, personalized feedback, and professional development are all integral steps federal managers must be taking to recruit and retain the best talent for the federal workforce.

“What it really comes down to is having conversations and being upfront – not sweeping it under the carpet,” Morris said. Government managers must outline clear expectations for the workplace and match those expectations with realistic individual capabilities. That way, employees understand how they can reach the next level and will be able to benefit from their manager’s involvement at each step.

Despite the apparent federal employee dissatisfaction, “60.2 percent of feds say that they are willing to recommend their agencies as a good place to work,” Morris explained. “The foundation’s there. People join the government for the importance of the mission…we need to use that as a way to build forward.”

“While a lot of these recommendations sound soft and squishy, they go a long way in being able to increase the engagement and the effectiveness of individuals that are working toward those missions,” Morris concluded. When it comes to federal management, there’s a lot of room for improvement. However, by taking a few simple steps to become more involved, federal managers have the power to attract the very best talent for the government and ultimately revitalize the workforce.

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