Report on Retaining Federal Workers Might Help Your Company, Too


Following up on a report on the federal government's trouble in retaining new hires, a sequel to it suggests ways federal agencies can boost retention.


With the cost of replacing workers reported to be 50 to 200 percent of that worker's annual salary and with dissatisfaction reportedly rampant after the recession among private-sector as well as federal workers, it makes sense to beef up your retention efforts.


The report was produced by the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton.


In an interview with Federal News Radio, Booz Allen Senior Executive Advisor Ron Sanders notes that overall, attrition at federal agencies is lower than in the private sector, but three groups are most likely to leave: new hires, those nearing retirement and those in mission-critical roles. It's safe to say that top cyber security experts, which are vital in every agency, are among those with key skills and plenty of other job prospects.


Sanders says that though direct managers may have little control over pay, staffing levels and promotion prospects of federal employees, there are other intangibles at work-namely the worker's connection to the agency mission and relationships with the boss and coworkers-that can balance and even trump dissatisfaction with those aspects.


The report offers some good advice. It breaks work down into four aspects and offers suggestions such as these:


Teamwork, supervision and leadership

  • "Stay interviews," one-on-ones with senior leaders about what the worker wants from the job and what is missing. It's vital that these remain confidential and result in action.
  • Requiring training for managers in telework, flexible work arrangements and generational differences.


Agency mission and employee skills match

  • Strengthening the hiring process to better determine the worker's "fit" with the agency mission.
  • Offering more realistic job previews. These could be videos on the agency website about what the job is really like.
  • Building the agency's reputation as "the" place to work. One example: At VA Palo Alto Health Care system, where the cost of living is high and doctors can earn more in the private sector, a partnership with a local university has doctors there performing cutting-edge research.
  • Using technology, such as internal social networks, to encourage cross-agency networking.


Performance management and work/life balance

  • Providing strong support for new hires.
  • Offering mentoring programs.
  • Fostering employee groups to support diversity.

Employee development and support

  • Emphasizing individual development plans.
  • Offering flexible workplaces and schedules.
  • Recognizing accomplishments and providing meaningful feedback.


In the radio interview, Sanders reiterated the need to recognize top performers, a topic our Don Tennant has stressed, and to "ride hard" those poor performers who aren't pulling their own weight.


With the federal wage freeze looming, it might seem that retention bonuses might be the answer. But as The Washington Post points out, money can't buy love.

Although the pay freeze might hasten the exit of some workers, more money isn't always the answer. Instead, issues of teamwork, supervision and leadership have "the biggest impact on employee job satisfaction and retention," the report says.