Engaging government employees could improve productivity and save a lot of money. But the public sector is largely ignoring the opportunity.
The linkage is indisputable: When employees are engaged and committed to their organizations and their work, they are more productive, and that contributes to lower operating costs. Employee engagement is also linked to the costs associated with absenteeism, turnover, accidents, mistakes and waste. It all adds up. And yet at all levels of government these potential savings are being left on the table.
Gallup's research on this subject is well known. In 2014, it reported that as a result of lagging employee engagement levels, federal workers' productivity was 11 percent lower than in the typical client organization. Based on the average federal salary (ignoring benefit costs) and the number of federal employees, that productivity gap translates into $18.5 billion annually in added costs.
Similar studies apparently have not been completed in state and local government. But the issues are essentially the same, given that Gallup also reports that 71 percent of state and local employees are not engaged with their work. Productivity gains of just 5 or 10 percent can save millions. Conversely, when productivity declines, costs increase.
Employee engagement became a hot button in the private sector long ago because Gallup and others have confirmed the linkage with performance and productivity. Businesses have learned that switching to policies and practices that contribute to higher levels of engagement pays off. Those practices have also been shown to facilitate the recruiting of better qualified applicants. The same kinds of changes would improve the brand of government as an employer by making agencies better places to work.
Productivity in government is difficult and for many operations impossible to measure, but that does not negate the importance of good performance and the practices that contribute to raising performance levels. Over the years, public employers have focused on strategic planning, goal setting, metrics, and of course technology, but those initiatives largely ignored the workforce and clearly have not solved the performance problem.
It's also been true that public employers have focused more on improved efficiency than on improved results. The gains from efficiency studies are rarely significant. In contrast, studies show rethinking the organization and management of work and adopting...