What Keeps Public Employees In Their Jobs? It’s Not Just Pay
There are several factors more important than money in reducing staff turnover among government workers, a new study shows.
Turnover among government employees is very costly for taxpayers due to the costs associated with recruiting, selecting and training new employees. The cost of replacing an employee can range from approximately 16% to 200% of spending on annual salaries depending on the education and experience required for the job. Turnover also often undermines the quality of service that constituents receive from government, as the workload is spread across fewer workers.
Given that high turnover comes at a cost, we set out to answer the question, “What makes government employees want to leave their jobs?” Our analysis combined findings from 59 different studies to create one big, more accurate and more comprehensive study, using a method called meta-analysis. The studies included in the meta-analysis sampled public employees across a range of professions (for example IT professionals, social workers, teachers and public procurement officers), levels of government (federal, state and local), and countries around the world (for example the United States, Netherlands, Israel and South Korea).
The results were surprising. We found that while factors such as pay and rewards and advancement and promotion have a negative relationship with turnover intention, meaning they decrease public employees’ desire to leave the organization, the effect sizes of these factors are small. In other words, they play a small role in turnover intention.
Participation in decision-making, procedural justice and support from one’s supervisor have a negative relationship with turnover intention as well; however, those factors have a medium effect size, meaning they play a larger role in turnover intention than pay and rewards and advancement and promotion. Indeed, the factor that had the largest effect on turnover intention in the study was exhaustion, which predictably had a positive relationship with turnover intention and a large effect size.
The findings indicate that while pay and rewards and advancement and promotion matter, those factors cannot replace a good working environment—one that allows employees to participate in decision making, practices procedural justice and prioritizes support from supervisors. Diversity management had a negative relationship with turnover intention and a small effect size but the effect size was slightly larger than the effect sizes for pay and rewards and advancement and promotion. So, diversity management matters too.
Government agencies, therefore, should support supervisors and senior leaders with training and development, as well as with data to help them foster a healthy and equitable work environment. Additionally, elected officials, public managers and constituents should abstain from continually assigning government workers additional responsibilities, given that doing so will likely increase their exhaustion, which has a large effect on turnover intention among government employees.
Hyunkang Hur is associate professor at the Department of Public Administration and Health Management School of Business at Indiana University Kokomo, in Kokomo, Indiana, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gordon Abner is assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, in Austin, Texas, and can be reached at email@example.com.