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The lessons the government must learn from corporate workplaces

The Partnership for Public Service is out with its fifth Best Places to Work study, ranking employee satisfaction across federal government agencies. And while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the Government Accountability Office may have taken the number one and two spots in the results, the best place to work may be outside of government completely.

Yet again, employee satisfaction scores in the public sector lag behind those in the private sector. An analysis by the Hay Group for the Best Places ranking set the index score for government workers at 65.0, versus 70.6 for employees of private corporations and firms.

The gap is closing, however. The government-wide number rose slightly this year, while the private sector score fell for the second year in a row. And while there has been much debate recently about comparing private and public sector compensation, the satisfaction divide has nothing to do with pay.

Rather, the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Human Capital Survey, on which the Best Places to Work ranking is based, offers a glimpse into how easy it should be for public sector leaders to boost employee happiness. Fixing the three biggest gaps--chances for promotion, opportunities for training, and communication received from management--are no-brainers, especially in this economy.

Consider promotions. Fifty-three percent of private sector respondents said they were satisfied with the chance to get a better job within their organization, versus 42 percent of public sector employees. And that finding happened in a year when private hiring has been down dramatically, while public sector job opportunities have remained more stable.

In addition, greater pressures on the bottom line mean more layoffs tend to occur in the private sector, resulting in employees who won't spend as much of their career working for the same organization. Federal leaders, with their more stable work forces, should seize the opportunity to create more career paths and opportunities for their employees, or risk losing them to the private sector.

Meanwhile, training opportunities are a sore spot for federal employees, too. Just 56 percent of government employees were happy with the amount of training they received in 2010, versus 66 percent for private sector workers. While that's a harder gap to fill unless there's a budget, managers don't have to bring in pricey leadership gurus or rent out swanky hotel ballrooms to give people chances to acquire new skills. Looking for everyday learning opportunities and inexpensive training sessions will go a long way to making people feel like their careers are moving forward.

But the biggest divide of all is the simplest to solve. Just 51 percent of federal workers think they get enough quality information from management about what's going on in their organization, versus 65 percent of private employees. That's the widest gap of any of responses to the survey's 13 questions.

Basic communication may not seem like much, and yes, there are limits to what can be shared, especially in agencies where confidential security matters are at stake. But simply sharing more about your team's status and direction is the best way to make people feel better about their jobs and their future, especially during times of uncertainty. Talk may be cheap, but it pays dividends in employee satisfaction that money can never buy.


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 |  August 31, 2010; 1:17 PM ET |  Category:  Corporate leadership , Culture , Federal government leadership , Government leadership , Leadership advice Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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KrankyMan doth protest too much: He's a letter carrier.

Posted by: RobertLinthicum | September 2, 2010 12:31 AM

The solution to the American economic malaise is a steep reduction in the number of parasites working for the government with a concomitant increase in the number of citizens working in private industry.

Last time I checked government pensions at all levels are underfunded by over $1 trillion dollars.

Save America; kill the public employee unions!

Posted by: krankyman | September 1, 2010 8:40 PM

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