analytics on employee performance (kentoh/Shutterstock.com)

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How to survive the 'silver tsunami'

Managing the aging government workforce is getting complicated. The "silver tsunami" has hit government with a vengeance.

It began in 2011, when the first of the baby boomers turned 65 and began to retire. Back then, the momentum was slowed by lingering concerns over the 2008 economic slowdown. But now retirements are accelerating. A study by Willis Towers Watson estimated that 40 percent of eligible workers are delaying retirement to age 70, but enough workers are leaving to cause concerns.

This is a big issue in the government sector. A recent survey from the Center for State & Local Government Excellence showed a spike in retirement among state and local government workers. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed reported an increase in retirements between 2014 and 2015, and those increases are expected to continue. These retiring workers tend to be more educated, veteran employees who leave with significant institutional knowledge that isn’t easily replaced.

Filling that draining talent pool with younger workers is the goal. The most logical replacements are the millennials, born between 1980 and 1995, but it seems they aren’t flocking to government jobs. In 2015, employment of millennials in the federal government fell by 7 percent to make up just a quarter of the government workforce, compared to 30 percent of private sector workers, according to a study by Deloitte Consulting.

How can agencies better manage succession planning of these older workers? How do they attract this younger workforce, and once they do, how do they retain them? The answer to all these questions is analytics.

How can analytics help? It’s all about identifying patterns that hide in the data. The patterns reveal themselves as managers ask more questions of the data. The actionable insights that are uncovered can help agencies better manage their workforce, from recruiting and retaining the best employees to ensuring seamless succession plans.

The first step is identifying and recruiting the right talent to replace departing workers and to augment existing staff. Agencies sit on vast amounts of data on potential employees. The challenge is sifting through that data to better understand the makeup of a particular candidate. Will the candidate fit in and thrive? Similar to college recruiters, government hiring managers must make sure the potential employee is a good fit so he or she can enjoy the work experience and make a contribution to the agency.

But how can agencies be sure that they're recruiting the right employees? There's no perfect solution, but one strategy is to look  at successful employees within the organization. Who are they? Why are they thriving? What makes them different? Identify characteristics of successful employees and match those criteria to job candidates. Data can be drawn from a variety of sources  -- performance reviews, employee feedback, demographic information.

Data, visualized, can isolate specific factors and criteria that can be applied to a broader set of potential employees. Once agencies understand the patterns of successful employees, they can apply that lens to get a more targeted set of potential candidates to recruit. Knowing who the best candidates are is the first critical step. Finding them is the second. Data on the best recruiting channels can help target the right source for potential employees.

Then, once an agency makes a hire, how does it retain those employees? The key is paying attention. Unfulfilled or unhappy workers affect an entire organization. Apply the same analytics principles used to recruit people to retain them. Managers should analyze the data to identify patterns the same way they did when they were recruiting. Why is one employee coming in late and leaving early? It could be that his or her commute has become unbearable. Why is a reliable employee, assigned a new project, missing deadlines? Perhaps the employee is over his or her head but afraid to raise the issue. While the data may not reveal why an employee is at risk, it can surface the risk factors, giving managers the foundation to intervene. By better understanding each employee's short-term concerns and issues and long-term goals and ambitions, managers can better ensure that they identify and act quickly to help great employees who may be at risk.

The way to  survive the silver tsunami --  the inevitable retirement of some of the most experienced workers --  is to plan ahead. Succession planning is key, and analytics can help ensure agencies have an effective plan in place. Start early and identify employees who may have an affinity for the work an older staff member is doing. Data is the best way to do that. Look at older, experienced workers to determine what sets them apart. What does the data reveal about their path to success? Data collected over the years can help identify possible successors and ease the transition. We’re not talking about pushing out the older workers; this is about preparing the agency for their retirement.  Again, paying attention is key. The same criteria apply as well to workers who leave for other jobs. Having a deeper understanding of success factors can help agencies replace retiring staff and backfill critical positions.

About the Author

Sean Brophy is vice president for Public Sector at Tableau.

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