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Talent & Culture

How public sector employers can retain lawyers & accountants amid today’s labor shortage

Natalie Runyon  Director of Enterprise Content and Talent, Culture & Inclusion Strategist in Market Insights for the Thomson Reuters Institute

Natalie Runyon  Director of Enterprise Content and Talent, Culture & Inclusion Strategist in Market Insights for the Thomson Reuters Institute

What can public sector employers do now to retain their best employees and recruit new talent in the future? Here's 5 ways

Nearly one-third (31%) of the public workers at the state and local levels are considering changing jobs, according to the MissionSquare Research Institute (MSRI). This underscores the fact that public sector employers are not immune from the Great Resignation; and it is therefore critical for public sector employers to sweeten the employee value proposition, especially for their lawyers and accountants. Here are five ways they can do that:

1. Highlight purpose at work

The pandemic has stretched many public service workers, such as those working in the legal, finance, and accounting departments, as well as those workers in client-facing roles for state agencies that provide public assistance and unemployment benefits.

At the same time, there is a renewed appreciation for the role that public sector employees play because of the essential nature of their work, according to MSRI, which delivers nonpartisan research to public service employers.

Managers of these employees can take advantage of this fact to attract new employees without the immediate worry that their current staff could leave because positive morale regarding work among local and government state workers increased to 56% in May 2021, up from 41% in October 2020, according to MSRI research. Indeed, mission-oriented individuals often can find a strong sense of purpose in their every-day work within government agencies.

In addition, the pandemic gave workers the time and inclination to assess their pre-pandemic life and their overall happiness. “From organizational research, we know that when human beings come into contact with death and illness in their lives, it causes them to take a step back and ask existential questions,” says Anthony Klotz, the organizational psychologist who coined the phrase Great Resignation. Government employers should highlight the mission and purpose of serving the public good in order to better retain their staff.

2. Leverage well-being benefits

At the same time, we know that pandemic life has accelerated burnout for many workers, especially those with caregiving responsibilities, and this has brought an acute focus on the importance of mental health and overall well-being in work performance.

Therefore, wellness programs are an essential benefit for workers’ well-being. For public employers who already offer these services, such as an employee assistance program, it may be necessary to create communication strategies designed to increase awareness of these programs to retain existing employees. For those employers that are not addressing well-being, providing these services to employees is long overdue.

3. Add financial wellness programs

Nearly 50% of U.S. employees suffer from financial stress, and financial stress results in annual payroll costs of approximately 11% to 14% in lost productivity and increased turnover, according to The Employer’s Guide to Financial Wellness.

For many lawyers, a major source of this financial stress is repaying their student loans. In fact, according to the ABA Young Lawyers Division’s Law School Student Loan Debt survey, about 75% of respondents had more than $100,000 in student loan debt after graduation and many reported the heavy burden was negatively impacting their mental health, particularly in terms of “stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and mental wellness.”

One easy, no-cost move is for public sector employers to offer assistance with the public service loan forgiveness program to alleviate this source of financial stress for their employees.

4. Prioritize diversity, equity & inclusion

To attract and engage workers and managers of the future, especially younger Gen Z employees of which the eldest members are 25, making diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) a top management concern is a must. In fact, 99% of Gen Z respondents said that DEI is important, with 87% indicating that it is very important.

Gen Z workers, which is the most diverse generation in the U.S., expect their employers to value DEI, making it no longer a nice-to-have offering, but rather an essential one. To attract and retain young workers, it is necessary for employers to treat them as valued contributors to the team and as a unique individual.

5. Offer flexibility

Perhaps the most important outcome for employers stemming from the pandemic was proof that remote work is possible and productive, making hybrid work environments a likely permanent fixture. Workers want autonomy on how, where, and at what times they work. Not every employer will be in a position grant complete freedom in this way, but most employers can see that at least some work can done remotely some of the time. This desire for work flexibility will only become stronger in employee retention in the future. Therefore, the time is now for public sector employers to make it a standard offering.

As public sector employers emerge in 2022 from a challenging two years, existing and future members of their workforces expect new elements of support and benefits from their employers. Public sector employers would be wise to look at these workplace trends as essential offerings, and adopting them can position employers to retain their best workers while attracting new, key talent.

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