Almost 50 million Americans left their jobs in 2021. The “Great Resignation” isn’t just affecting private employers: Local governments are experiencing high turnover rates as they struggle to fill vacancies and retain staff.
In the most recent episode of the Building Stronger Communities podcast, host Matt Horn discusses strategies to retain local government employees, the importance of workplace culture, and how to select the best candidate for a vacant position.
Why are so many people leaving their jobs?
Local government workforce is typically one of the most stable parts of the economy.
“For the first time in as long as I can remember, we’re actually seeing pretty significant turnover at the local government level,” said Horn.
This phenomenon is partially due to the emergence of a younger workforce. Many Millennials and GenZers are more loyal to their own career path and aspirations rather than a specific employer.
Horn explained, “If they see an opportunity to grow themselves, or to contribute in a new way at another employer, they’re likely to leave you behind.”
Turnover is common, so why care now?
The cost of employee turnover can be as much as two to three times the salary of the staff member being replaced.
That’s a steep price to pay for local governments, and many leaders are asking the same question: How do we get employees to stay? For years, private sector employers have looked to establishing a “people-centered culture” as a means of retaining workers.
“If we’re going to have great people on our team, we have to create an environment that results in retaining those people and making them feel like they’re in a position to grow and to be cared for as part of the organization,” said Horn.
What is a people-centered work culture, and how do you make it happen?
Horn suggests conducting an employee survey to get a better sense of where everyone stands.
“Ask questions like, ‘What do you love most about working here? What keeps you coming back every day? What’s the challenge? What’s running against the grain with, with who you are as a person? Here’s what we’ve defined as our core values, do these ring true to you? Can you live inside of that?’” said Horn.
It takes time for changes within local government to stick. Horn advises sticking with any changes you put in place for at least six months. Ride it out to see what works, and what doesn’t.
How do you pick the best candidate for an open position?
Hiring the first candidate that comes along- versus the best fit- can have a huge impact on local government operations.
“I’m telling you, particularly in the public sector, when you bring on someone who’s not a fit, the challenge in creating productive turnover is nearly insurmountable,” cautioned Horn.
When posting a job ad, make sure your organization’s core values are on clear display. Be honest about the way your organization operates throughout the interview process.
Make the selection process an immersive one: A simple office tour, meet and greet with current staff, or shadowing opportunity could be key to determining if a candidate is the right fit for your team.
The further up the chain of command the position is, the more crucial value alignment becomes. Afterall, these are the people who lead and model core values, not just follow them.
“Be patient. If you hire the wrong candidate, then the best-case scenario is that person’s going to turn over. The worst-case scenario is they’re going to bang around inside of the organization creating problems and more costs down the line,” cautioned Horn. “I know we have to get these positions filled, I know every day that they’re not filled, that’s additional cost. But trust me, there’s cost avoidance in waiting for the right candidate.”