These 3 Fed Workforce Trends Will Shape Mission Success in 2023
Agencies need to embrace the challenges and adapt to shifting worker expectations.
Emerging technologies, global instability and changing societal demands will all shape the federal work experience in 2023. Agencies need to embrace the challenges and adapt to shifting worker expectations to continue to achieve mission success.
Look for these three trends to shape the federal workforce in the coming year.
1. Return-to-Office Hesitance
The post-COVID “return to office” hasn’t played out as many organizations had expected. We’re hearing loud and clear that many federal employees want to continue working remotely. It makes sense, as routines and schedules have been restructured over the past few years around the virtual work experience, at least part of the time.
Federal agencies need to re-evaluate the benefits and intention of being in the office, creating a sense of purposeful interaction. And they need to adjust to new employee expectations to attract and retain top talent. This may mean making practical changes to address the cultural hurdles that can arise, such as a lack of mentorship and personal engagement, in the hybrid work environment.
This is of particular concern, for example, for the defense and intelligence workforce — especially those employees that work with highly sensitive data in a SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, on a regular basis. To hire and retain hard-to-find cleared personnel, defense and intelligence agencies may need to reexamine their operations to preserve sensitive military and security information, while also meeting the needs of employees who don’t have a desire to routinely go to a SCIF to perform their jobs. That may mean shifting some roles out of the SCIF, when possible. It also may mean upgrading these physical spaces so those who need to perform their roles in a SCIF aren’t spending their time in uninspiring facilities.
Agencies should also be looking to redefine some job descriptions, taking a hard look at what needs to be done, where, and by whom. Rather than defining broad “one-size-fits-all” telework policies, it may be helpful to structure policies around the tasks of federal personnel on a role-by-role or function basis to reimagine the way in which coworkers collaborate.
2. AI as a Problem-Solving Co-Pilot
Advances in artificial intelligence are evolving at an astonishing speed, from language generation to image creation and beyond. These advances will impact the federal workforce to spark a new way of working in the federal government.
All too often, federal workers find themselves moving from one task to the next with little time for creative problem solving. By automating mundane tasks, AI promises to free up individuals to maximize their own natural creativity.
Take strategic communications work, for example. To support an agency’s social media efforts, it is now possible for a team member to provide AI software with a headline, and in a matter of seconds that person can receive hundreds, even thousands of messages and image options for any given social media post. This gives the team member both the time and resources to select an optimal message.
Rather than worry about being displaced by AI-driven processes, federal workers should look to artificial intelligence as their partner in creativity. AI will allow them to spend more time doing higher-value tasks versus repetitive actions.
Agencies should embrace this change and invest in the technology to enable this type of shift. Leadership should effectively communicate AI’s benefits to their teams to help them embrace AI as their copilot and explore career advancement opportunities within their agency.
3. Managing Through “Perma-crisis”
The world these days may seem in a permanent state of crisis, impacted by everything from COVID, to the war in Ukraine, to a potential recession, to the Great Resignation. It’s been literally one thing after another, a sort of “perma-crisis” that demands creativity and agility.
The workforce has responded with expectations for greater empowerment and autonomy on the job. Driven by forces outside their control, they’re radically rethinking their very relationship to work itself.
Even within the federal workforce, employees are using their voices and calling for change. They’re demanding more from work than just a steady paycheck. They report wanting a more fulfilling workplace overall, an employee-centric environment that supports wellness, as opposed to strictly financial needs. They’re also exploring opportunities to take their skills from one federal agency to the next, something we didn’t see much in the past. Agencies that are adaptable and willing to make changes to the way people work simply look more attractive.
Agencies can find creative ways to respond. In practical terms, this might mean expanding the breadth of available benefits, something commercial industry has been exploring for almost a decade now. Equally as important, leaders can look to evolve the cultural relationship between agency and the federal worker.
To do that, leaders must of course listen to what employees are saying about their shifting needs and expectations. In the past that has taken the form of surveys and focus groups. However, curiously, we’ve observed that the “perma-crisis” is driving a contradiction in what people say they want, and how they behave. For example, employees often say they want more social and cultural events with co-workers, but then fail to attend the offered events. To understand and plan, agencies should look at their data in context to deliver meaningful “life-centric” solutions for their workforce.
By examining the following three trends -- return-to-office hesitance, AI as a problem-solving co-pilot, and managing through a “perma-crisis” -- federal agencies can help lead their workforces to career fulfillment in 2023, and ultimately, mission success.
Britaini Carroll is Managing Director, Human Capital Practice Lead at Accenture Federal Services, and Lauren Oliver is Group Design Director for Accenture Federal Studio. To learn more, read Accenture Life Trends 2023.