National Association of
Counties * Washington, D.C.
Vol. 32, No. 13 * July 10,
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An economy with a 96 percent employment rate and a particularly strong
demand for those with certain high tech skills is a tough arena in which
to conduct public sector recruitment work or to influence the retention of
key employees. After all, the traditional thinking about government is
that it is an employer who offers stability, long-term employment
opportunities and structured work assignments for the majority of its
Salary rates have been set in general to reflect what
the labor market for government employment applicants would bear but with
a general tendency toward the conservative in setting salary and other
forms of benefits such as time off.
A common tool in salary
setting, required in some jurisdictions, is the paralleling of salaries to
the average of other jurisdictions in a given area or of a certain size.
Use of such surveys in which agencies, in effect, feed off of one another,
is also a relatively conservative technique.
Overlaid on top of the
situation has been the equally distinguished tradition of civil service
protections that provide, in effect, that a public employee past probation
owns his or her job as a matter of personal property.
then, under the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
that this personal property cannot be taken without due process. For a
government/business, this means navigating through what can often be a
maze of appeal hearings, procedural rights, technical requirements, Bills
of Rights for some employees such as firefighters or law enforcement
officers and more. Court precedent and legislative involvement in local
government affairs complicates the situation.
The result is that
employees in these settings are extremely well protected. However, the
agency is also often protected against innovation, flexible adjustment to
changing business conditions, rewarding extraordinary performance and
taking effective corrective action when performance or behavior is below
standard or lacking in any standard.
There is no constitutional
amendment, regrettably, protecting government against being deprived of
the ability to move in an effective businesslike manner to install
positive changes nor is there likely to be at any time
Retaining great employees become-much more difficult as other
benefits are paraded in front of candidates by dot coms and others able to
move faster, offer more financial incentives and more flexibility in
personal work situations. One web design company known to the HR Doctor
recently loaded its employees into a motor home and drove them from the
company headquarters in Michigan to Florida for a one-week visit. This was
in celebration of completing a major account project.
agencies are simply not able to compete with that kind of opportunity for
innovative benefits, any more than we provide access to the organizations
cabin and trout stream in the Sierras as another company did.
competitive economy, with increased opportunities for the most employable
and innovative public employees, is a fact of life that will not soon
diminish. Incentives for these great performers to exercise their staying
power rather than their ability to easily leave for a perceived greener
pasture represents great HR and organizational challenges in cities and
counties for many years to come.
Unfortunately, being successful in
this new recruiting arena demands more innovation in HR and fewer
responses such as but weve never done it that way before and that
would take six layers of approval.
It will take a change in the
basic genetic make-up of organizational attitudes and approaches to
problems. One agency tried to create a very basic version of telecommuting
for people. However by the time the process became weighed down with
restrictions, demands for documentation, photos of the home office area,
etc., the flexibility was replaced by the inertia that led to the
On the other hand, one county installed a new
compensation model that featured cash bonuses and immediate rewards for
great performance in addition to the rather more traditional basic raise
on anniversary date approach. This competency based evaluation model
established links between pay and performance, which are working well and
will serve this county for many years. HR agencies are experimenting with
out-stationed employees working in different office areas, which may be
closer to their homes, or the concept of performance contracts, which mix
a sense of stability with incentives for measurable performance
In the future, these trends point to an increasing
substitution of a one-size-fits- all HR models with a more flexible model
that mixes individually tailored work programs with organization-wide
assurances of equal opportunity and non-discrimination.
points to the use of a new HR professional specialty the Retention
Analyst. The best performing employees are the ones who can most easily
leave. Certainly they will be influenced by great offers of financial
increase well beyond what the public agency can match. However, those
agencies that create very visible programs of recognition, of
opportunities for personal training and growth, and of a sense of purpose
and honor behind public service are those that will continue to fare well
despite the overall competition. Those that also keep a sense of the pulse
of the organization and can anticipate problems that might make people
leave are the ones that will do very well despite the
Compensation is, of course, a major motivator for
people to leave employment for another job or to be attracted to an
employer in the first place. However, there are other critical
characteristics that make a person choose to leave or to choose to stay
regardless of the salary.
One of those is job satisfaction. That
is, do employees feel that their work makes a positive difference and that
they are recognized for their contribution by an employer who respects
them and takes visible steps to support them in their work? It is true
that the notion of job satisfaction and ability to make a positive
contribution are intrinsic, hard to measure characteristics, but they are
important to people and they result in loyalty and also staying
The watchword of HR of a prior generation was stability and
one rule for everyone. That mantra will increasingly fail in the next
generation of HR. Our job as public administrators is to smooth the
transition from one model to the next and to avoid being trapped into
thinking that something which has never been done in the past can never be
done in the future.
Best wishes from the HR Doctor and dont forget
to visit at http://www.hrdr.net/.
(Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward
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