A local government’s staff deliver the day-to-day services that provide for the health, safety and welfare of the community. Employee engagement is the degree to which an employee is passionate about and committed to their job and organization.
If staff are fully engaged in their jobs, then they will put in the extra effort needed to provide the best services possible. If they are disengaged they will, at best, put in the bare minimum effort necessary to satisfy their job description and, at worst, will actively seek to undermine the organization.
The difference in work quality for engaged and disengaged employees is not trivial. One study found the following differences between work units in the top quartile in employee engagement versus work units in the bottom quartile:
- 17 percent greater productivity
- 41 percent less absenteeism
- 10 percent higher customer satisfaction
- 40 percent fewer defects in work products
Research from Gallup has shown that about 70 percent of state and local government employees are not engaged in their jobs. Further, about 17 percent are “actively disengaged” and are sabotaging the good work of their colleagues. Though this is not much different from the degree of engagement found in private companies, the consequences could be more severe given the critical role public services can play in a community.
What’s missing from the statistics above is how it feels to be disengaged and how employees get there. Consider this quote from an employee in local government finance:
“I graduated from college during the onset of the Great Recession and considered myself very lucky to have landed a permanent, full-time government job in the finance department at the city after three long years of part-time work. A government job with all the great features people usually look for: security, stability, regular hours and great benefits. I was ready to arrive on time, behave professionally, learn my job and do it well to become a great employee. I didn’t hate it and I didn’t love it, and I thought that was normal… However, it didn’t take long for the job to become perfunctory to a fault. And as the novelty of the new job wore off, I became totally disengaged and I couldn’t wait for the next 5:30 p.m., the next weekend, the next vacation. Was this what full-time work was all about? I didn’t want to believe it… We know government has many advantages in the long term, but if this is what the short term feels like, then is it really worth it? … I knew my feelings were not exclusive to me. The sad thing was that I didn’t think it was even possible to change an age-old institution like municipal government, and I was going to have to either surrender my life to this humdrum reality or look for opportunities elsewhere.”
This story not only highlights the lower productivity associated with disengagement while people are still employed with the organization, it also shows that disengaged employees are more likely to leave. Replacing employees is an expensive proposition, especially in a tight labor market. In fact, estimates place the average cost to replace an employee cost between 20 percent and 30 percent of annual salary, but it could be much higher for higher skilled, higher paid positions.
Over the past several years, surveys conducted by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) indicate that employee turnover, employee engagement and ability to attract qualified finance candidates for open positions rank in the top five issues facing local government finance offices. As a large percentage of workers near retirement, this is an issue that has implications for local governments, their ability to provide necessary services and maintain a financially sustainable organization.
GFOA recently released a research report that attempts to show how local governments can improve employee engagement, thereby improving productivity and reducing turnover. More importantly, it shows how to make a difference in the lives of staff members like the individual quoted above and, thereby, make a difference in how your local government serves its community. While the report focused on improving engagement within the finance office, lessons learned can be applied across local government.
The first part of this report is about getting the right people in the job. If the job is a good match to the person to start with, it will be easier to engage them. Second, it addresses how to engage employees after they are hired. Here, it shows how the culture of the organization can be shaped to encourage engagement and managerial tactics that can be used to bolster engagement.
Highlighted in the report are results from various surveys GFOA conducted with finance staff from across the United States. In addition, GFOA interviewed staff at local governments that had recently taken on efforts to improve employee engagement including stories from King County, Wash.
King County and its finance and business operations division rely on “lean” process improvements as the basis for an engaging culture. Lean is a method for continuous improvement in how work is performed and uses value stream mapping to address challenges and improve operations. Staff has also found that thinking about work as value streams helps employees see how they fit into the larger purpose and process. Download the full report here.
If you have any questions on the report or are looking for more information about how to engage employees or find out more about the benefits of an engaged finance staff, please do not hesitate to contact GFOA at (312) 977-9700 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.