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Home / Articles / The High Cost of Disengagement in State and Local Governments

The High Cost of Disengagement in State and Local Governments

February 12, 2018


Ever notice that when the topic of employee engagement comes up it’s rarely associated with the public sector? When you consider that state and local governments are collectively the nation’s largest employer, estimated at 11.3% of the U.S. workforce, the question is, why?

A recent Gallup report illustrates the current condition of employee engagement for state and local governments across 43 U.S. states. And the news is not great. On average, only 29% of full-time state and local government employees are engaged, which is slightly lower than the lackluster national average of approximately 31%. Beyond offering a baseline measurement of engagement levels, the study also highlights the high cost of disengagement, which is conservatively estimated to cost state and local governments up to $100 billion annually.

Clearly one of the biggest opportunities that state and local governments have is to invest in the engagement of their employees. And the return on this investment is quite significant. According to Gallup, organizations with high employee engagement levels experience:

  • 37% lower absenteeism
  • 25% lower turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
  • 65% lower turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
  • 28% less shrinkage
  • 48% fewer safety incidents
  • 41% fewer patient safety incidents
  • 41% fewer quality incidents (defects)
  • 10% higher customer metrics
  • 20% higher productivity

Given these statistics, it’s clear why employee engagement is such a hot topic. But the fact is many government leaders simply don’t know how to get started with employee engagement, or even what it really means. To better understand what employee engagement is, let’s start with what it’s not…

Employee engagement is not the same as employee happiness. An employee might be happy at work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are productive. Regardless of what perks an employee’s line of work may offer, making employees happy is different from engaging them.

Employee engagement is not employee satisfaction. Engagement is more difficult to attain than satisfaction, and more valuable. A satisfied employee often shows up for work every day without a complaint. But that same “satisfied” employee may not put in extra effort on their own, and they’re much more likely to leave your organization for a small bump in pay from another employer. Satisfaction isn’t enough.

So, what is employee engagement?

Employee Engagement IS the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its mission.

This emotional commitment means engaged employees truly care about their work and their employer. Their effort is based on a desire to genuinely better the organization, rather than just a paycheck or promotion.

Engaged employees care and go the extra mile.

Now that we’ve established what employee engagement is, let’s explore the easiest way to start improving engagement—the employee engagement survey.

Engagement surveys measure key drivers of engagement within your organization and thus allow you to determine if your employees are engaged or disengaged. Commonly assessed areas that drive engagement include: pay & benefits, advancement opportunity, performance feedback and recognition, training & development opportunities, leadership and the overall work environment.

Gaining insight into what’s important to your employees is just one of the key benefits of conducting an employee engagement survey. Here are four more:

  • Drive Higher Engagement: Once you’ve assessed how engaged your employees are, you can create an action plan to address issues and highlight areas of success. Plans can be organization-wide or focus directly on action areas for each department. Once you’ve identified the changes needed, you can set priorities, allocate resources and create an implementation schedule.
  • Key in on Culture: In addition to understanding your employees’ personal experience at work, surveys can also measure how your workforce perceives your current culture. This is especially helpful for organizations that are trying to drive behaviors and intentionally create culture. Acquiring this kind of data ensures that any initiatives are aligned with the values and mission of the organization.
  • Direct Organizational Growth: Knowing how you rate on areas like career development opportunities, management/leadership effectiveness and working environment will give you tangible objectives for change. Depending on the size of your organization, assessing engagement will also enable you to identify best practices. A specific department might rate very high on engagement, and by analyzing the data you can gain insight into how they are achieving it and apply similar practices throughout the organization.
  • Empower Your Employees: Engagement surveys give employees a voice by creating two-way communication with management. When they feel their opinions are valued, they feel empowered and more invested in helping the government achieve its mission. Creating a safe environment for employees to share feedback is critical. Anonymous surveys administered through a third-party are highly recommended because they offer employees a safe environment without fear of repercussion, and ensure management receives honest feedback and suggestions.

It’s important to note that simply sending out a survey will not increase engagement. Meaningful follow-up is the key. If you ask for feedback and never act on it, you can do more harm than good. Your response to the results should lead to positive change where change is needed.

Engagement surveys give government leaders valuable data to drive better results, and help employees understand the mission and what they can do to effectively achieve it.

So, what’s the best next step? Clark Schaefer Hackett’s Strategic Talent Management Services Group specializes in employee engagement solutions for organizations of all sizes. Our services include:

  • Meeting with you to fully understand your needs and goals
  • Designing a custom survey questionnaire that meets your needs and aligns with your goals
  • Distributing the survey
  • Collecting and analyzing the survey data
  • Producing a comprehensive report detailing the strengths of your organization, specific improvement opportunities, as well as recommendations on how to best deliver the results and create an action plan to address key areas for improvement

If you are interested in conducting an employee engagement study or would simply like us to assess your current employee engagement strategies at no cost, contact us today.

All content provided in this article is for informational purposes only. Matters discussed in this article are subject to change. For up-to-date information on this subject please contact a Clark Schaefer Hackett professional. Clark Schaefer Hackett will not be held responsible for any claim, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any information within these pages or any information accessed through this site.


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