Public Safety Workforce Blogs

The Retention Problem: How Public Agencies Can Prevent Turnover

Posted by Jackie Belasky

Feb 16, 2023 11:38:00 AM


The pandemic has had enormous impacts, especially in terms of employment. Not only has there been a massive shift toward remote work, but the “great resignation” has left many employers scrambling to fill positions—and certain industries have taken a bigger hit than others. Public agencies were among those struck the hardest, with employment in state governments dropping by 4.4% at the start of the pandemic.

Millions of Americans rely on public service employees for everyday needs like public safety, transportation, and education. Short staffing and the additional overtime cost that comes with it make it harder for public agencies to successfully carry out their work. In this article, we will explore causes of turnover and strategies that public agencies can use to reduce it.

Promote Job Satisfaction

One common cause of turnover in public agencies is a lack of job satisfaction. Several factors affect job satisfaction, including wages, advancement opportunities, and the support and recognition of management. When employees feel they’re insufficiently compensated or recognized for what they do, lack the support of their managers, or feel stuck in their current positions, job satisfaction will tend to be low. On the other hand, competitive pay, recognition for good work, and advancement opportunities can motivate employees to not only remain on the team but also keep striving to do their best. Whether through raises, public praise, or awards, management officials should make the effort to show employees their hard work is appreciated.

Celebrating life events is another effective way to show employees they’re valued. A Workhuman survey found that remote employees who worked at companies that commemorate life events were more likely to feel respected and appreciated than remote employees of other companies. By recognizing employees’ achievements and life events, offering competitive salaries and benefits, and providing ongoing professional advancement opportunities, agencies can provide a significant boost to employee satisfaction.

Establishing a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Lack of work-life balance is an issue in many industries, but it’s a particular struggle within public agencies. Public employees often work long hours or on-call shifts, sometimes leading them to feel like they never truly have a break. This is extremely stressful and, over time, can result in burnout.

The first step to supporting a healthier work-life balance for your staff is understanding their workload and what they can reasonably be expected to handle. Long shifts are normal in public agencies, but it’s important to make sure that employees are not sacrificing their physical or mental health to meet an overly demanding work schedule. Technology can be a useful way to keep track of scheduling and help ensure employees do not take on too much overtime or too many shifts.

It's useful to build this understanding into the agency’s policies themselves. Policies should prevent employees from taking on excessive amounts of overtime or back-to-back night shifts and allow them to swap shifts or request time off when needed. Agencies should also provide access to mental health services, peer support systems, and restorative programs to provide assistance when needed.

Creating a Positive Organizational Culture

Although work should never be the primary focus of life, there’s no getting around the fact that employees spend a huge amount of time in their work environment. The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over the course of their career, equating to about one-third of their lifetime. For this reason, employers must strive to create an organizational culture that is positive and rewarding, giving employees a more pleasant daily work experience and encouraging them to stay on the team.

To create a positive organizational culture, remember these three Cs:

  • Community—Building a sense of community among employees makes coming to work more enjoyable. Employees may feel encouraged and supported by their peers and even form lasting relationships.
  • Compensation—Recognition and rewards are great ways to encourage employees and help them feel respected and appreciated. Compensation be an extra incentive for taking on unpopular shifts to help spread the workload more fairly among the staff.
  • Communication—Promote open communication between management and employees. If your staff does not feel like they can express their thoughts or concerns, they may feel discouraged and seek employment elsewhere.

Preventing turnover is essential for maintaining the stability and effectiveness of public agencies. Internally, these organizations must be fully staffed to prevent mental fatigue and maintain morale among existing employees. Externally, a lack of staff could result in service disruptions, which negatively impact the surrounding community and can pose risks to public health and safety. By using these tips to foster a positive and supportive work environment, public agencies can help retain their top talent and secure the human resources they need to provide high-quality service to their communities.

Topics: Staffing, Public Safety Workforce, Retention & Recruitment

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