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June 30, 2003
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ImageA Moving Experience

Whether it’s a good thing or not, the relationships between employees, their jobs and their employers have been changing and will continue to do so. The "losers" in this social evolution include long-time attachment to one employer, and traditional ideas of job security and stability. The "winners" are those who feel confident in their abilities to work, and find interesting and challenging work, even if it means changing employers, places to live or even careers.

Social demographics are very different than they were when my mom and dad were in the middle of their careers. About 17 percent of the U.S. population moves every year. Interestingly, this is about the same percentage of the American workforce which works in the public sector. No, don’t even think it, it’s not public employees who move every year!

Technology is enabling a mobile workforce never before seen in our society. The Internet, e-mail, wireless connectivity, and transportation availability make concepts like "distance learning" and "distance working" come to life. A paper entitled Family Economics, edited for the League of California Cities in the mid 1980s by the HR Doctor, described the rise of families in which both parents work, in which part-time employment, career flexibility and a new balance between home life and work life was being drawn. The assessments of nearly 20 years ago in the family economics report have certainly come true. The average person spends about four years on a job these days Ñ about the same average tenure as a county administrator or city manager, less for the superintendent of schools. Aren’t these the people we hope will exercise long-range, strategic visions? In any event, look at the bright side, their tenure is about twice that of head coaches in the National Football League (i.e., about 2.3 years, according to ESPN).

This increase, and the willingness and abilities of employees to change jobs and change places of residence, comes at a time when huge numbers of experienced employees in the public sector are dropping like flies because of deferred retirement options programs and the general age demographics of the population. Nearly half of the federal civilian workforce will soon be eligible for retirement.

Unfortunately, the ability to retire has not been matched by attention paid inside organizations to succession planning and the development of the next generation into leaders of public agencies. An additional consideration is the fact that it is increasingly difficult to attract and retain "the best of the best" into public service. The HR Doctor invites you to consider the article, Employees as Free Agents, at

The superstar candidates for public service leadership are motivated more by challenge and opportunity to excel than by salary and benefits – although the latter are obviously very important. The superstars will leave a county or a city for another agency if they are feeling oppressed, depressed or generally unimpressed by micro managing or uncaring top elected or appointed leaders.

Such leaders would prefer to look good rather than do good, and may prefer not to support change and innovation because it rocks the boat or makes old constituency, including unions or particular business or other internal factions, feel threatened.

This type of leadership, or actually, lack of leadership, will cause great employees to leave the organization. Other employees who are less able to leave will crawl into a bunker of inertia and, tragically, use the nearest calendar to mark off the days until they pass probation, vest in the retirement system or become eligible for early retirement.

They may also become particularly adept at filling out workers’ compensation claim forms, calling in sick with no notice on unscheduled absences, and generally driving supervisors crazy to the point where the supervisors prefer to disengage and let the employees graze until they choose to leave the organization (see the HR Doctor article, Rust in Peace, at

All is not bleak, however! The social, technological and organizational dynamics described in this article spell business opportunities for relocation companies! The HR Doctor predicts that, within the next decade, public agencies will increasingly utilize two different "forks in the road" when it comes to the employment of star performers.

The first is a return to the pre-industrial model of apprenticeship programs. Employers will seek out and recruit high school and college students, not unlike the approach used by professional athletic teams and their scouts. They will offer apprenticeship or internship commitments in trade for employment commitments when the program ends. The agency will sponsor students in college and make "investments" which will produce qualified and motivated employees a year or more down the road.

At the same time, the agency will walk down the other fork in the road and search regionally or nationally for the employment superstars. This will require innovative flexibility and benefits, including the payment of relocation costs. No, I don’t mean reimbursement for moving expenses after the three bids. I mean house-hunting trips for the spouse, support for admission to nearby universities for the high-school-age children of the incoming employee, help in securing employment for the spouse, introductory social and networking opportunities for the new family, and more.

The HR Doctor’s advice to colleagues is to aggressively prepare succession plans. This begins with a demographic analysis of the current workforce. How many supervisors and managers are likely to be leaving through retirement and normal turnover in the next few years? How many hard-to-recruit professionals, such as registered nurses or licensed water or wastewater treatment plant operators is the organization likely to need or likely to lose through attrition in the future?

Based on that analysis, the next step is to prepare to journey down both forks of the road at the same time. That means developing internal apprenticeship, internship, cadet or other such programs and forging closer ties than ever before with the nearest high schools, community colleges and universities. It means beginning to send scouts out to these institutions to attract interest from strong performing students who have strong potential as great future public employees. It also means reconsidering traditional resistance to innovative relocation practices and being prepared to compete successfully in the public sector recruitment "Olympics" – a competition into which most cities and counties in the past have never even thought about entering teams.

All the best,

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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