Strategies to Reverse High Rates of Turnover Within Federal Agencies

Federal agencies are struggling to retain top talent. In 2018, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) found that voluntary separations accounted for 36% of federal employee departures. Resignations were the most cited reason, followed by retirements. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median tenure of federal employees was just 8.2 years in 2020. And according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 60% of disabled employees hired leave their position within two years. These factors, combined with an aging workforce and the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic, human resources professionals and agency leaders must adopt strategies to identify causes of turnover within their organizations and implement strategies that drastically increase staff retention and growth. High turnover has serious impacts:

Impact of High Turnover

  • Financial losses: According to Gallup, employee replacement and retraining can reach double an employee’s annual salary.
  • Loss of institutional knowledge: When combined with an aging workforce heading into retirement, high turnover for early to mid-career employees creates a vacuum of knowledge and on-the-job skills gained throughout a career.
  • Low morale: High turnover often creates more work for remaining employees who must pick up the slack, and the repeated loss of trusted colleagues takes a serious toll.
  • Decrease in productivity: Gaps between outgoing and incoming hires mean no one is there to complete mission-critical tasks. The time spent onboarding new staff only increases when important work is left unfinished or passed on to someone else. Low morale leads to a lack of motivation, stress, and potentially poor performance.

Retention Strategies

Improving retention is a time and labor-intensive process for human resources professionals and those in leadership roles, but there are proven strategies you can use to create a plan. For example:

  • Communicate value and vision: Many people come to public service because they want to make a difference. Practice communicating the valuable impact employees have on a day-to-day basis and how their work adds value to the mission and vision of the agency. Cultivating a sense of purpose and pride can help raise morale and foster a desire to grow within an agency to see these accomplishments bear fruit.
  • Foster positive relationships: A 2019 study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 58% of departing employees cited management as the reason for their resignations. Positive relationships with managers and team members create teamwork, loyalty, and increase productivity. Implement an open-door policy and encourage and practice two-way communication.
  • Encourage and model work-life balance: High-pressure jobs can quickly lead to burnout, but heavy workloads can make employees feel like they cannot take time off to recharge, spend time with family, or focus on their wellbeing. Time off should not only be encouraged publicly but modeled by leadership.
  • Be transparent: When employees don’t understand why or how decisions are being made, they feel left out or that their opinions are not valued or taken into consideration. Whenever possible, be upfront about decision-making processes. When employees feel included, it bolsters their morale and gives them a sense of unity.
  • Hire the right employees: When there is high turnover, there may be a sense of urgency to fill open positions as quickly as possible rather than carefully evaluating candidates to make sure they are the best fit for the position and the agency. Identify traits of successful long-term employees and hire towards those characteristics. Compensation and benefits are critical to attracting and retaining highly qualified employees. Be sure to communicate the unique benefits of serving the federal government.

High turnover is frustrating and daunting for leaders and staff. Still, the tools are available to address the root causes of employee dissatisfaction and create an environment where workers stay in their jobs and actively engage in career growth within the federal government.

Would you like help with these strategies? Management Concepts is proud to offer Human Capital Advisory Services and numerous courses and certifications to help you attract and retain the best talent.

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