Connecting state and local government leaders
COMMENTARY | Agencies that offer remote work options find it easier to hire and retain talent and meet their diversity, equity and inclusion goals.
It’s mind-boggling: Nearly 1 million government jobs are open in the U.S., the vast majority in state and local agencies, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Across the country, employers face a crisis in recruiting top talent, and the public sector is typically at a disadvantage because of a pay gap with the private sector.
Now, government employers at all levels are considering ending hybrid work plans and alternate schedules launched during the pandemic. This move may make the public sector workforce crisis worse.
Wise public agencies should think carefully before discarding their COVID-era work plans. After all, flexible work options not only improve recruitment and hiring success, but they boost employee productivity, satisfaction and empowerment, reduce attrition and absenteeism, save money, and expand the talent pool, according to a Global Workplace Analytics study.
Job seekers that my recruitment firm works with have frequently cited flexible work schedules as a top priority. In fact, candidates in all sectors ask about remote or hybrid work options even before relocation assistance. This option is especially important to younger workers who are replacing large numbers of retiring baby boomers.
A health insurance plan company that we’ve placed candidates with, for instance, has a hybrid work option for all eligible staff members—two days in the office and three at home each week. Employees provide firm six-month schedules to their supervisors, and in-person team meetings and other collaborations are set accordingly. In exchange, there is little room for schedule changes. This approach has enabled the fast-growing organization to quickly hire qualified staff and save space by assigning shared cubicles and offices and avoiding a costly move to larger facilities.
Conversely, one county government with a more restrictive policy allows some staff to periodically work from home one day a week. Recruitment for jobs in that county takes twice as long as it does for the health plan positions.
Often, those against remote work argue that employees should be on-site to build a cohesive and collaborative culture. But no one needs to be standing around the water cooler five days a week to bond with coworkers.
Some government services are accountable to taxpayers who expect public servants to be available during traditional business hours. Sedona, Arizona, like many other cities across America, addresses this issue with a shortened schedule in which everyone except for public safety staff works from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. (City Hall is closed on Fridays.) Employees’ email signatures contain open hours, which are also posted on the city’s website to keep the public informed.
Given the high cost of housing in Sedona, most of the city’s employees live elsewhere and have significant commutes. The four-10 schedule gives them their commuting time back, and the three-day weekends are a perk that helps the city stay competitive in attracting and retaining talent.
The benefits of remote work far outweigh the concerns.
- 43% of those surveyed in the Gartner 2021 Digital Worker Experience said flexible working hours helped them be more productive.
- CareerBuilder research revealed jobs allowing employees to work remotely received seven times more applications than in-person roles.
- 40% of global candidates reported to ManpowerGroup Solutions that workplace flexibility is among the top three factors they consider.
Providing flexibility may also improve diversity, equity and inclusion efforts by enabling an employer to recruit from underrepresented communities further away from the city or county seat.
Cost saving is another significant telecommuting benefit reported by 60% of employers in the Global Workplace Analytics survey. That study noted that an estimated annual savings of more than $700 billion—in rent, utilities, relocation, cleaning, security and other costs—could be achieved if employees desiring to work remotely did so just half the time. That’s an annual average of more than $11,000 per employee.
Then there are the realities of today’s job market.
In an Eagle Hill Consulting poll of more than 1,000 U.S. workers, including 511 federal, state and local government employees, nearly half (45%) of the respondents said they would consider looking for another job if changes are made to their organizations’ remote and hybrid work options. Job satisfaction and productivity would also decline, according to 59% and 44% of those surveyed, respectively.
Given these findings, government agencies should think about continuing or adding flexibility options. Doing so will help retain valued employees and attract new ones too.
Melissa Barker is vice president, Practice Development, with special expertise in recruiting for government and public-sector organizations at Duffy Group, a global recruitment firm based in Phoenix.