The rate of attrition in the federal government could depend greatly on employees’ experiences with their direct supervisors.
A manager must take a “holistic view” of their young employees, said Linda Springer, former director of the Office of Personnel Management and now executive director of the Government and Public Sector with Ernst & Young.
A new hire, especially one straight out of college, does not have their skills “honed” by experience yet, Springer said. Specifically, the new hires don’t know how to “navigate the bureaucracy,” she said.
The manager must be a kind of guide but, more than that, a mentor too. Good supervisors send their employees to training opportunities and meet with them outside of the workplace, said Tim Sommella, president of Young Government Leaders, a professional organization for young feds.
“Younger workers want that personal touch,” Sommella said. “Mentoring outside the workplace is really powerful.”
The role of supervisor-as-mentor is inconsistent across government and even within agencies. Young Government Leaders tries to fill this gap. The organization, with eight chapters nationwide, holds conferences, workshops and “speed mentoring.”
“It’s like speed dating,” Sommella said, except here you’re matched up with a member of the Senior Executive Service, referring to an agency’s executives who are not appointed by the president.
With the new workforce’s desire for attentive supervisors, the need to train young feds is as important as the need to train their managers, said Ron Sanders, former chief human capital officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Sanders is now a senior executive advisor at Booz Allen Hamilton.
But it’s a catch-22. In an economy where workers are told to do more with less, managers ultimately have a workload they have to get off the desk, Sanders said.
On the other hand, if managers don’t invest in the early months and years, that new hire is probably going to leave, according to an attrition study by the Partnership for Public Service. That then costs an agency in lost productivity when no one is in that position, as well as extra time and effort in recruiting and training a new person.
The agencies that develop young workers over the long-term “are the ones who are going to win the retention battle,” Sanders said.