On the future of government HR: let’s just say “Buckle your seatbelt”…

Considering looming trends in Congress and attitudes reported to be widely held among Americans, it makes sense for Federal HR strategists to start right away with contingency planning for a significantly altered recruiting and human capital environment. And I don’t mean Band-Aid solutions. The atmosphere that’s taking shape is likely to impact recruiting in the government for the next several years at least.

The political trends—not to mention the drift of public opinion—are clear. Certain current and incoming members of Congress have put the size and salary structure of the Federal workforce on the legislative agenda. Recent (and mutually contradictory) surveys on government compensation compared to that of the private sector—characteristically amplified by the media—have raised the visibility of both the salaries and the sheer numbers of Federal workers in the public eye. And let’s be honest with ourselves: the salad days of high enthusiasm for government service among young job seekers—approaching a peak barely two short years ago—appear to be gone for a while.  What’s more, the dreaded retirement exodus—admittedly overhyped in the press for a decade—can still exert some destructive force on the Federal workforce and on the embedded experience and know-how your current agency team embodies.

The impact of these and other emerging conditions on how your team manages the work of your agency can be substantial and, in the worst case, disastrous. So, as I said at the top, it’s not unwise to plan for the worst case—i.e., a shrinking workforce and parallel restrictions on compensation and on how many recruits you can bring onboard to handle your agency’s mission. Given these impending threats, your future could be all about competing to attract and retain the best talent available, and doing so with limited resources. And remember, you will be competing on two fronts:

  • First, with a corporate sector emerging from a recession and playing human capital catch-up, and then
  • with other Federal agencies that need to retain and replenish their workforces under the same bleak conditions that you will be facing.

All this seems to promise a bumpy ride for Federal recruiters, managers and planners alike. So get ready. In my next post, I’ll bring forward a few suggestions about dealing with this potential nightmare for the agency manager and human resource specialist.

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Thomas Delorme
Written by Thomas Delorme

VP, Digital Products & Strategy

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