The federal government’s new value proposition: the future of work
The COVID-19 pandemic proved that federal agencies needed to quickly reduce bureaucratic red tape and streamline processes if they were to fulfill their missions.
For the most part, they did. The federal workforce was resilient and quickly adapted to working remotely while staying mission-focused and solving important problems. Many of these civil servants played a critical role in helping our country respond to the crisis and develop a vaccine in record time.
The pandemic also provided agency leaders with important lessons about engaging their employees, even as most of them began working remotely. Going forward, these lessons can help agencies recruit and retain the next generation of public servants to tackle 21st-century challenges.
Federal agencies compete with the private sector for talent—and they should endeavor to meet or exceed employee engagement levels seen in the best companies.
Overall, the government-wide employee engagement score was 69 out of 100, while the private sector registered a 77, according to the 2020 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings. Clearly, federal employee engagement has room to grow.
A key will be solidifying the innovations put in place during the pandemic. When federal agencies provided work-from-home technology and authorized flexible work schedules, they adapted to employee concerns and demonstrated an ability to improve employee engagement.
While remote work can have some disadvantages—decreased work-life balance, lack of real-time collaboration and isolated work environments—federal employees were very satisfied overall with how their agencies supported them during the pandemic, as shown in the Best Places to Work’s new COVID category rankings.
This new hybrid environment can be a core part of the government’s value proposition for bringing more young people into the federal workforce, where only 7% of current full-time employees are under the age of 30.
Private sector organizations are considering a range of options to bring back their employees, from a full return to in-person work to remaining virtual indefinitely. Federal agencies are similarly equipped to offer what new professionals seek: hybrid environments, flexible work schedules and improved technologies that strengthen the employee experience.
That’s why, going forward, federal leaders should:
- Provide clear guidance on how employees can work virtually based on their job type and enable teams to develop specific norms for a hybrid environment.
- Create an engaging environment for both in-person and remote employees, reopen in an inclusive and equitable way, and train leaders on how to best manage remote teams and employees.
- Consider how they will maintain their organizations’ cultural DNA in a hybrid environment while recognizing that this new setup offers fresh opportunities to remove previously held biases at work and evolve agency work culture.
Government leaders should view these as iterative steps and not pressure themselves to “get it right” the first time. Try a new model, listen to the workforce by actively solicitating feedback, adjust the model and communicate throughout the process.
Federal leaders must consider a number of challenges involved with hybrid work. The leaders who respond to these prompts with innovative, forward-thinking plans will put themselves in the best position to engage current employees and attract new talent.
The future of the civil service can be bright, and when employee engagement is strong, we can make that bright future a reality.
Danny Werfel is the leader of the U.S. public sector practice at Boston Consulting Group.