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4 Strategies For Engaging Government Employees In 2022

by Rebecca Symmank on November 23, 2021
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We’ve entered the era of the “Great Resignation”, with a reported 4.3 million Americans resigning from their jobs in August alone.

Most organizations struggle with employee engagement, but it’s particularly challenging for government agencies. These agencies often face wage stagnation and budget cuts, compounded by a growing list of mandates and initiatives they need to manage that force everyone to do more with less. 

The Partnership for Public Service’s 2019 Best Places to Work employee engagement survey scored the federal government 61.7 out of 100. Other places the federal government saw declining rates include satisfaction with pay and support for diversity.

A national poll conducted by the CPS HR Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement indicated that 44% of private-sector employees are fully engaged compared with 38% of public-sector employees. By level, according to the same report, local government had more engaged employees at 44%, followed by the federal government at 34% and state government at 29% of employees feeling engaged in their work experience.

See how to use federal funding to invest in technology and solutions that improve employee engagement. Get the guide. 

What drives engagement for government employees?

Engaged employees generally have a stronger connection to their work, their organization, and their teammates. An engaged employee also takes more pride in their work, finding personal meaning and purpose in what they do. This personal pride and purpose is driven by the level at which an employee feels valued by their organization, according to the Association for Talent Development.

Research indicates that the key drivers of employee engagement are the same for public and private sectors, including:

  • Leadership and managing change
  • Training and development
  • The work itself
  • Employee recognition and value

Across all levels of government, leadership and managing change was the top driver.  As you look ahead to the coming year, maximize engagement with your public sector employees by assessing your leadership strategies; enhancing your training and development offerings; evaluating how you recognize your employees’ work and the value they hold, and examining what work your employees are doing and how.

How can you improve employee engagement in the public sector?

Lead by example

A training guide issued by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management encourages management team members to make sure they are engaged in their work themselves in order to inspire their direct reports.

By modeling the behavior a supervisor or manager expects from their staff, the leadership team sets expectations and generates a feeling of teamwork and solidarity.

The past two years provided a wealth of opportunity for leaders to put this into action as the government worked to navigate the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leadership comes not only from management but also from employees’ peer groups. In a system built on checks and balances, the U.S. government is the perfect place to implement group input and collective engagement.

One way to create self-leadership that generates engagement is to create a cross-functional steering committee. Too frequently, employee engagement is perceived as the responsibility of HR, rather than being a collective effort. By leaning on the experience, knowledge, and strengths of high-performing leaders from various departments, your branch can develop a committee to dive behind the survey numbers and investigate what truly needs to happen – then implement the strategies required.

Task this steering committee with developing common goals, setting clear objectives, and creating clear plans of accountability that each team member participates in to achieve the objectives.

Create opportunities for training and development

When the pandemic first hit, private and public sector organizations alike scrambled to transition as much of their workforce as possible to remote work while trying to maintain operations.

The City of Austin gathered various departments to quickly develop an online learning hub for its employees, with LinkedIn Learning at the center. Employees who previously attended training in limited numbers at the University of Austin can now continuously train and update its employees anywhere.

Provide regular employee feedback and recognition

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in January examining employee engagement specifically in the Department of Homeland Security. This analysis used 2019 data from the Office of Personnel Management Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, and found that engaged employees expect: 

  • Constructive performance conversations
  • Career development and training
  • Work-life balance
  • An inclusive work environment
  • Communication from management

The key to strong communication is purposeful communication. According to the survey, engaged employees expect constructive conversations. Criticism and feedback are a necessary part of career and personal growth. Another key element is strong communication from management. Strong communication includes listening as much if not more as you speak, asking the right questions, not prejudging, and offering advice that is desired and welcome. Find ways to communicate with clarity and calm.

COVID-19 safety expenses

Evaluate the work itself and your workplace policies

A Gallup poll from this year shows that 3.5 million women left active work in one year. The  2021 State of the Global Workplace report found record levels of stress among employees, especially women. On average, 46% of working women in 2020 reported stress "a lot of the day yesterday," as did 42% of working men. It also showed that wellbeing is declining among employed women, whether or not they have children, faster than among working men.

The cause of this stress is not necessarily due to the type of work women are doing, but how and when they are doing the work.

The report summarizes that women, like men, want a job with purpose, a job that inspires and fulfills them. With 48% of America's working population actively job searching, it’s safe to assume that fulfillment strongly motivates employment decisions. Wellbeing factors into those decisions, and stress erodes wellbeing.

Disengagement hurts the companies as well as the employees and also comes with significant costs. Recent research says the lost productivity of not engaged and actively disengaged employees is equal to 18% of their annual salary.

One way to support your employees is to examine remote or hybrid work schedules. Gartner estimates that remote workers will represent 32% of all employees worldwide by the end of this year.

Not only is remote work becoming more of a norm, employees are beginning to expect it, to the point where they are willing to make concessions in order to achieve a schedule that allows a greater work-life balance.

Nearly 50% of workers in the U.S. say they would take up to a 5% pay cut to continue to work remotely at least part-time post-pandemic, according to a new survey. Some even say they would quit their jobs if they weren’t allowed to work remotely.

Consider upgrading your workplace technology

As employees become increasingly dependent on hybrid work and the digital workplace, investing in new technology such as tablets, efficient and powerful laptops, and employee apps can help your workforce stay connected to the information and resources they need to work anywhere. They need to be able to easily navigate your changing workplace even if they aren’t there every day, reserve space and services, request service, and receive important internal communications.

Invest in your employees

Having the right technology is just one part of this equation, but it does help.

In one survey of 12,000 employees, researchers rated organizations based on their willingness to adopt new technology. Among organizations that lagged behind in this area, 58% of employees reported having negative feelings toward their employers. At more innovative organizations that prioritized tech investments, just 10% of employees felt that way.

“The research underscores how the digital workplace encompasses a wide ecosystem of people, culture, technology and processes,” said Leon Sayers, lead advisory consultant for Unisys Asia Pacific, which conducted the survey. “It’s not just about how up to date your IT is or whether you can log in from home. How you work defines your workplace—and vice versa. To achieve successful digital transformation, employers must take a holistic approach to organizational change.”

Embracing user-friendly workplace technology improves employee engagement, productivity, and morale.

And there’s never been a better time to make these investments.

The federal government implemented multiple plans throughout the pandemic to help businesses, and continues to provide additional aid. The deadline to use the CARES Act relief fund is extended to Dec. 31, and the American Rescue Plan includes provisions to fund schools, among other entities.

iOFFICE + SpaceIQ offer a comprehensive portfolio of solutions to help you manage your agency's facilities and keep employees engaged. 

Download this guide to learn about available federal funding and how you can use it in the coming year.

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