Warning for federal managers: don’t get complacent!

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

The government’s overall attrition rate is low compared with the private sector’s, but a new study finds federal agencies are losing newer workers at a “worrisome” rate.

Ron Sanders, a Senior Executive Advisor at Booz Allen Hamilton which produced the report with the Partnership for Public Service, told Federal News Radio an even bigger concern is the possibility federal managers will overlook risks because they’re happy with the low overall attrition rates.

While I’ll caution that we’re not saying the sky is falling here, I think the report does suggest that it’s probably worth federal human capital officers to get up out of their chair and look out the window and just make sure; look under the surface and see if that overall low attrition rate is masking other issues.


Especially as the economy improves, noted Sanders, and jobs open up again. “The thing that i worry about most is the patterns you will begin to see in the most critical, mission critical, occupations.”

Attention Managers

Sanders said there are two points in particular to take away from the report:

  1. Look Beneath the Surface -“That’s the title of the report and the point there is don’t be lulled to sleep by a low attrition rate. Look at your mission critical occupations, look at your key demographic groups – new hires, women, minorities – look at key organizations, look at your survey results. One of the most striking things in the report is the difference between those employees who respond to the survey question ‘i’m going to leave’ versus those who say they’re going to stay in a number of key indicators. In some cases as much as a 30 point difference.”
  2. Mitigate attrition risk – That can begin right at the beginning of the hiring process, noted Sanders. “Better candidate assessment means better candidate fit and better candidate fit means low early attrition.” Realistic job previews ensure a better match, said Sanders, and on boarding programs are important.

Granted, attrition isn’t necessarily bad or good. institutional knowledge is good, but so is fresh input. But in trying to retain employees, noted Sanders, all studies, including this one, find the single most important factor in retention is “the relationship between the employee and his or her frontline manager. That sets the tone. That’s how they see themselves linked to the agency mission. That’s how they get feedback on their performance. That’s how they feel good about their job. So, really, there’s only so much chief human capital officers can do. This really does fall on the shoulders of managers looking at each of their individual employees, literally one on one. That’s where attrition and retention decisions are typically made.”