talent.managementSurveys measuring overall employee satisfaction attest to the fact that government workers are more disengaged on the job than their private-sector peers. Turnover can be directed to either the more positively perceived private-sector, or more forward thinking government agencies. The leaders/managers are the driving forces that can determine the outcome one way or the other.

Employee disengagement is the single most important factor in declining productivity, which leads to higher absenteeism, higher costs of doing business and all around poor performance. While these elements are rather broad in their approach, the causes of employee disengagement can be even more evasive. Research shows that managers and supervisors play a significant role in the level of disengagement that an employee experiences in both the private and public sectors.

Studies suggest that the number one reason why people leave their jobs is one reason and one reason only…the boss. Women also cite management style and great bosses as a stay factor more frequently in general than their male counterparts.

Many factors weigh into the manager/supervisor engagement formula. Career Systems International (CSI), a global company that helps organizations maximize strategic engagement, development and retention, cites certain ‘high risk behaviors’ (also known as ‘jerk’ behaviors) as those factors that most contribute to employee disengagement and subsequent turnover. Some of the most practiced ‘high risk’ behaviors perceived within the government/public sector are ‘favoritism’, ‘micro managing,’ and overall ‘not caring’.

The opposite of employee disengagement is obviously employee engagement – the level of loyalty and productivity that one brings to the workplace. If leaders want to increase their operational effectiveness on any level, they will focus on those things that bring with it a workforce that is ‘engaged and productive’. The question is how?

Employee engagement often falls prey to major changes and challenges in any organization. Beware then, the potential ‘engagement cliff.’ If managers and supervisors get complacent or let old operational behaviors continue, without change, government agencies may see a large number of talented employees jumping ship to other entities. Entities that offer ‘exciting work and challenge, development and great people to work with’; the historical top three reasons overall that people tell CSI that they stay.

In a breakdown of ‘Stay Factors’ by industry, more recent data suggests exciting, challenging and meaningful work still outrank all other stay factors for government workers, while supportive managers and a good boss come in second with this specialized class of worker. What is interesting about this research finding is that in earlier studies, working with great people and career growth outranked supportive mangers and bosses as top reasons why people stay. Now managers are the top driver in how engaged your workforce is and subsequently how it performs, as well as the single greatest risk of turnover.

How can a forward thinking agency manage this potential ‘engagement cliff’? Assessments on agency climate, meaning the prevailing conditions of a governmental area, suggest there are three force fields that agencies are currently dealing with. They are the external forces, the internal forces and the cultural forces. Obvious external forces or challenges are the budgets, IT/technology and social media, and agency consolidation. Internal challenges include retirements (and loss of intellectual capital and legacy), downsizings to cut costs, program consolidations and appointee changes and shifts. The cultural challenges are the ones that hit most close to home and are the ones that can be directly impacted through the manager/supervisor/employee relationships and they are factors such as generational differences, program/agency collaboration, increased emphasis on social media as a communication tool, and the need to be flexible to teleworking.

The solution to the engagement and retention issue is the ability for the manager/supervisor to truly understand what is on the hearts and minds of their employees as it relates to the aforementioned forces. This can be facilitated through a dialogue that surfaces key issues. It can be accomplished through a one on one conversation between the manager and the employee that allows the manager to let the employee know why they are valued within his/her organization, followed up by how they might be able to give them more of those opportunities. They can then ask – what makes you stay? The answers to these questions will provide solutions to the climate areas that are most concerning to the employee and will help the manager to build an infrastructure that supports large groups of employees.

If agencies are seeking an environment of change, what better place to start than a dialogue with those who know how to do it best? Who knows, managers may even provide a foundation that inclines its top notch employees to stick around a while and not just be part of the change, but can help to drive it.

Beverly Kaye is the Founder of Career Systems International, a talent management company. She is an internationally recognized authority and best selling author on career development, employee engagement and retention.  Lynn Cowart is a Senior Associate Consultant at Career Systems International (CSI). She has led coaching programs and training events, and managed programs designed to instill culture changes within organizations by modifying behavioral changes within individuals. 

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