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Agencies seek non-monetary employee rewards

Feb. 13, 2014 - 04:04PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Miriam Cohen: Energized employees are more productive.

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With money tight for training and bonuses, agencies can use techniques like mentoring, rotational assignments and seminars to keep employees engaged in their jobs, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chief human capital officer said at a forum this week.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you have energized employees, they’re going to be more productive,” Miriam Cohen told hundreds of federal financial managers, contractors and others Wednesday at an Association of Government Accountants conference in downtown Washington. “If you look at the things within your control, you might have a better chance of weathering the storm.”

For the NRC, a relatively small agency with a workforce of about 4,000, rotating staff into short-term assignments outside of their bailiwick are one way give them new skills and make them more marketable for career advancement. The days of rapid ascent up the General Schedule ladder are probably over, Cohen said.

“People are going to spend more time moving horizontally than vertically,” she said.

Beyond keeping the current workforce happy, however, federal HR managers could soon have to recruit an influx of younger staff with markedly different expectations than their elders.

By 2016, about one-third of federal employees will be eligible to retire; often taking their places will be members of the “millennial” generation aged 30 and younger, said Neil Howe, president of LifeCourse, a consulting firm.

“How are you going to get the best and brightest of these kids?,” Howe asked. “How are you going to engage them?” For millennials, a federal job offers some big attractions, but traditional bureaucratic culture also carries some significant turnoffs.

On the plus side, the prospect of job security and good benefits is appealing to young people who endured the Great Recession and are generally more averse to personal risk-taking, Howe said, adding that they also like the opportunity to confront large-scale public challenges.

On the downside, they don’t like government’s grinding pace—whether it’s in the recruitment process or in how projects are paced - or seniority trumping achievement, Howe said. And for a generation thinks of itself as special, “cog-in-wheel” treatment is not what they want from their jobs.

“Not only do they want benefits, they want someone who cares about them,” Howe said.

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