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How to Win and Hold on to Government Employees

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2 March 2020

What’s the number one problem facing government financial reporting teams? 

Did you guess heavy workloads? The complexity of the work? Or, IT issues? Sure, most teams deal with some or all of those issues. But, there’s a much larger challenge most government budget and finance teams—indeed most government agencies—are grappling with: protecting the workforce. 

Simply put, federal, state, and local government teams are struggling to attract and retain enough talented people to do critical work. 

The private sector regularly tempts skilled federal, state, and municipal employees with high-paying, fast-paced, innovative opportunities, but movement of the best and brightest from one government agency or department to another is common as well. 

The bottom line is a factor, too. Frequent budget cuts reduce funding to fill open positions, leaving many financial reporting teams short-staffed. That problem is compounded during government shutdowns. We’ve seen 21 federal government funding gaps since 1976—the longest, lasting 34 days, ended in January 2019.

With each government shutdown, financial reporting teams must complete annual financial reports and budgets on deadline despite forced time away from their desks. That results in overworked, time-strapped, stressed teams that can’t perform at their highest levels. 

However, the biggest cause of the workforce challenge is the famed “Silver Tsunami” and the mass exodus of baby boomers from the workforce as our population ages. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management reports that the average age of full-time federal employees is 47.5, and about 45% of the federal workforce is over 50 years old. The Government Accounting Office reports that about 30% of career federal employees will be eligible for retirement in the next five years, with the percentage creeping higher for some agencies and state and local governments. 

Challenges

Holding on to your workforce presents several challenges to government accounting teams.

“Brain drain”

Every time an employee leaves a financial reporting team for retirement or a new job, critical knowledge related to the position goes with them. The Silver Tsunami, in particular, presents a massive brain drain as tens of thousands of career government employees retire and take a trove of expertise with them. 

Lack of collaboration

The traditional siloed structure of government financial reporting teams doesn’t foster collaboration or cross-training. When processes are isolated and team members become so specialized, the loss of just one employee can throw an entire workflow into a tailspin and reduce productivity as other team members struggle to fill the gap. 

Reduced accuracy, consistency, and timeliness

Underfunding and understaffing create a ripple effect in the quality of work government accounting teams produce. Accuracy and consistency suffer when teams don’t have the right processes and tools to effectively manage the massive amounts of data and complex reports they work with every day. And when they’re short-staffed, it’s even harder to produce critical reports, like a comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR) or Agency Financial Report (AFR), in a timely way. 

Solutions 

There’s no way to turn back the Silver Tsunami, and competition for the best and brightest never stops. The workforce problem sounds dire, but we can tackle it from several angles.  

Realign the federal workforce

The federal government isn’t known for being agile and responsive, but it is addressing the workforce problem by building what it calls the “21st Century Workforce.” The President’s Management Agenda, published by the White House in 2018, details plans for modernizing the workforce, so the government can achieve its key missions. The report lists "enablers," such as IT modernization, that will drive increased efficiency, efficacy, and transparency in the 21st Century Workforce. 

Appeal to a sense of purpose 

In its recent report, Workforce of the Future, PwC states that millennials want their work to have purpose, and they want to contribute to their world. That’s a big opportunity for government agencies. Highlighting the inherent purpose in working in the public sector is a valuable differentiator for government agencies wanting to attract millennial candidates. 

Take work to the next level 

The President’s Management Agenda also focuses on shifting employees from doing low-value work to high-value work. Among tactics for modernizing financial reporting is using integrated technologies to connect data directly to reports, reduce repetitive tasks, and eliminate obsolete processes, so employees can focus on more important—and more interesting—work.

Using updated technology is also a factor in recruiting. As hiring managers try to backfill the hole left by the Silver Tsunami, they need to attract millennials and Gen Z workers who expect to have the newest technology at their fingertips. That demand isn’t limited to 20- and 30-somethings. The best and brightest candidates, no matter what their generation, want to use the best technology to make their work easier.

Switch to the cloud  

It’s 2020, and cloud-based systems are the norm for most private sector firms, yet, many government financial reporting teams still depend on paper-based processes and inefficient legacy software to produce everything from budgets to annual financial reports. Why? Blame budget constraints that can contribute to government being a late adopter. 

But that’s changing. Cloud technology isn’t new anymore. For years, financial reporting teams in the private sector have demonstrated superior performance with cloud-based financial reporting platforms. That success makes the case for their peers on government budget and finance teams to switch to the cloud as well. It helps that the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is driving adoption of cloud computing by providing security standards that cloud solutions must meet to be used by government agencies.

Harness the right financial reporting technology 

With powerful financial reporting platforms on the market, there’s no reason government accounting and finance teams should have to use basic spreadsheet software and pull all-nighters to meet reporting deadlines. Using the right financial reporting software improves productivity, reduces the risk of error, stems knowledge loss, and boosts consistency, accuracy, and timeliness. A better work process leads to a better end product, and that means less stressed, happier employees. 

The workforce problem is a monumental challenge, but it’s also one government financial reporting teams can overcome with the right mix of planning, strategy, and technology. 

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