Welles: Fixing the workplace

The next generation of federal IT workers seeks organizations that value employees.

Like it or not, the federal technology workforce is aging. If the retirements projected for the next decade occur, government agencies will experience severe shortages across information technology competencies. So, how is the government doing in its efforts to recruit, retain and develop new employees to fill the gaps?

In general, employers are not doing a good job of retaining employees, said David Sirota, an industrial psychologist and co-author of the book “The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want.”

He said managers keep destroying new hires’ enthusiasm. And it’s not easy to get work done or stay at a job if you are no longer excited about it.

The book’s findings are based on surveys Sirota and his co-authors conducted from 2001 through 2004, mostly at Fortune 1000 companies and some federal agencies.

The employees Sirota surveyed had a job satisfaction of 80 out of 100 points in their first six months on the job. A year later, that satisfaction had declined by 14 percent.

Sirota and his colleagues attribute the decline to management policies that are geared toward the 5 percent of employees who are allergic to work, not the 95 percent who are good workers.

“That makes the work environment oppressive for all,” Sirota said.

“People are often treated indifferently, almost like paper clips,” he added. “It’s hard for people to be enthusiastic about an organization that is not enthusiastic about them.”

For technology workers, special frustrations can develop. IT employees might want to do high-quality, timely and cost-effective work, but users of the technology have changing priorities and demands, which require difficult adjustments. The pressures on technology professionals and users can create negative stereotypes of one another.

“People come to work to work,” Sirota said. “The battles are frustrating.”

Career development is one answer to the retention problem. “Organizations with high employee enthusiasm regard employees as real assets and invest in them,” Sirota said.

Training that gives workers leading-edge skills benefits them and the organization. In short, if you are looking for ways to build loyalty and enthusiasm among employees to keep them on the job, try to satisfy what matters most to them.

Recent legislation may help managers do that. Under the Workforce Flexibility Act of 2004, expanded retention bonuses take effect May 1, 2005. The law permits agencies to pay a retention bonus to a current employee who possesses high qualifications to encourage him or her to stay in the federal government.

Agencies will be able to pay exceptional recruits bonuses of nearly 100 percent of their starting salaries.

Managers need to recognize that most employees are reasonable people. They need to feel valued, and they require social contact or camaraderie to be productive.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

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