3 Ways to Keep Public Employees from Leaving

Source: Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene, Governing, February 2014

The turnover rate among young state employees is rising. Raising pay might be a way to change that, but it’s not a practical one…

The overall upward movement in the turnover rate is one of the findings of the State Government Workforce Project (SGWP), an effort we’re involved in with Professor Sally Selden of Lynchburg College, under the auspices of the National Association of State Personnel Executives. Some of the numbers from that study are indicative of what’s happening all around the country. In Montana, the state employee turnover rate reached a low of just under 9 percent in 2009; it was up to 12.5 percent in 2012. In Georgia, turnover in fiscal 2013 was 17.9 percent; it had been 13.6 percent in fiscal 2009. And in Louisiana, voluntary turnover has been rising—from 12.8 percent in fiscal 2011 to 18.9 percent just two years later….

…Part of the turnover problem may be the improving economy. As the unemployment rate has been edging downward, the private sector has opportunities for people who might otherwise work for the states. The public sector is particularly vulnerable for a number of reasons, not least because many states can’t keep up with the private sector in terms of pay. …There’s also a rather alarming morale issue in the states. Declines in benefits like pension plans and health care have hurt, and so have pay freezes or furloughs. Purposeful reductions in workforce frequently mean that one person is doing the job of two. That’s not only wearing on employees, it also makes it harder for them to feel the heady rush of success. Four of five state HR representatives report that employee morale is worse than it was before the recession, according to preliminary SGWP data….