(updated on 4/9/2019)
Declining Government Employee Engagement
Employee engagement is a significant challenge for government agencies. In fact, employee engagement is lower in public sectors than in private sectors. And, while 71% of state and local government employees are not engaged in their work, 17% of those employees are actively disengaged, working against the mission of the organization.
Actively disengaged employees are more likely to miss work, quit their job, have more accidents, and compromise the quality of work. More importantly, they undermine the work of engaged employees. And, for every two engaged employees, there is one actively disengaged employee interfering with the progress of strategic goals and costing significant fiscal resources.
When government employees are engaged, they are more likely to perform well and contribute to achieving government strategic goals and organizational innovation. Employee engagement also results in better work attendance, employee retention, and workplace safety. And, engaged employees are more likely to provide better customer service as well as have higher customer satisfaction and citizen trust and confidence.
Unfortunately, citizen satisfaction and trust in government are at an all-time low. At the same time, government agencies are under pressure to improve performance while doing more with less. In addition, government employees often feel the stigma of being overworked and underpaid, which contributes to the barreling decline in morale negatively impacting engagement.
Prioritizing Government Employee Engagement
With studies showing a strong connection between employee engagement and better customer service and only 29% of state and local government workers being engaged, it is critical that government agencies prioritize and take deliberate steps to engage employees. Government cannot simply afford to hire more employees, rather the focus must be on reaching the potential of the employees they have. But, improving existing employee performance “will come only from workers who are engaged because their leaders have made employee engagement a strategic imperative and have pursued it seriously, steadily and systematically.”
One government report reached the conclusion that employee engagement, “at its core is a blindingly obvious but nevertheless often overlooked truth. It is how the workforce performs that determines to a large extent whether…organizations succeed, and whether or not the workforce is positively encouraged to perform at its best should be a prime consideration for every leader and manager and be placed at the heart of . . . strategy.”
Engaging Government Employees
So, what is employee engagement? Employee engagement is “a heightened employee connection to work, the organization, the mission, or co-workers. Engaged employees find personal meaning – and pride – in their work. They believe that their organizations value them and, in return, engaged employees are more likely to go above the minimum and expend ‘discretionary effort’ to deliver performance.”
Key drivers of employee engagement include making employees feel valued, providing training and development opportunities, contributing to meaningful work, and ensuring a positive experience with their direct supervision. But, the strongest driver of engagement in government is when employees feel confident in their leadership and how they address change. In a study of public and private employees, government leadership scored significantly lower than private leadership in employee confidence relating to leadership and managing change.
One area where public employees scored slightly higher than private employees was in the context of being able to contribute to meaningful work. This makes sense as the motivation of government employees tends to be in more overall alignment to the organizational mission in that they tend to be motivated by the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people that they serve.
Leveraging the intrinsic motivation of government workers while addressing how leaders lead in a rapidly changing environment is an opportunity to be entrepreneurial. When leaders focus on empowering workers to take ownership of the work they do, they engage workers to be the innovators that seek solutions to the problems before them. When workers feel empowered, they feel engaged. As a result, they go above and beyond to perform, shifting their focus to better service and work product.
Research has clearly connected employee engagement to organizational performance. When government employees are engaged, they perform better and as a result, their government agencies improve performance. While there is no clear silver bullet to improving engagement, one city government has made employee engagement a strategic priority with significant results in engagement and innovation by focusing on entrepreneurial leadership.
Leading with Entrepreneurial Governance
The City of Albuquerque employs nearly 6,000 people across 22 departments with a mission to provide its citizens with courteous, efficient, and timely professional service. The City has made a strategic commitment to empowering employees to be fully engaged in their work in order to accomplish this mission. To do so, the City was the first in the nation to offer the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative’s (ELI) entrepreneurial mindset training and curriculum to city employees on a large scale.
“The outcomes of this talent development program couldn’t be more powerful,” said Tom Darling who oversees the City’s Public Service University. “We are not just teaching people how to think like entrepreneurs, but how to view their current situation as an opportunity where innovation and creativity are encouraged as opposed to a position of powerlessness where employees simply do what they are told. Our employees are feeling empowered, they are finding their voice and returning to their jobs with a renewed sense of ownership, purpose, and pride.”
When leaders embrace an entrepreneurial mindset and embed entrepreneurial thought and process in government service, employee engagement, innovation, and overall positive change will occur. Government workers see their role as “business” owners of their department and focus on customer service as the primary driving factor in their work. Through developing an entrepreneurial mindset in government workers, critical public services can improve, fiscal resourcefulness can occur, and employee engagement, job satisfaction, and retention can increase. More importantly, this improved performance leads to increased citizen satisfaction and trust.
Albuquerque’s government workers are transforming the city by embracing an entrepreneurial mindset and redefining what it means to be a government employee. Learn more about their story and outcomes with our downloadable eBook.
Lavigna, Robert. Employee Engagement Low, Especially in Government (2017)
Gallup. State of Local and State Government Workers’ Engagement in the U.S. (2016)
Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement. Driving Employee Engagement (2016)
Genesys. Connecting Customer Experience to Employee Engagement (2017)
Funkhoser, Mark. How to Get Public Workers to Care About Their Jobs (2014)
Lavigna, Robert. Improving Employee Engagement: A Public Sector Leadership Imperative (2015)
Lavigna, Robert. Engaging Government Employees (2013)