Advancing knowledge continuity amid the “Great Resignation”

Employee turnover is set to increase by nearly 20% in 2022. In the public sector alone, federal agencies saw a 6.1% attrition rate in 2021, with nearly 9% of employees under the age of 30 quitting their jobs.

Often referred to as the “Great Resignation,” this trend has highlighted how important it is for agencies to have a plan in place when organizational knowledge walks out the door. High turnover doesn’t just mean a shift in workload for the remaining employees—it’s also about preserving collective decades worth of legacy knowledge, creating a scalable process for training new hires, and retaining employees long enough that they’re able to form a deeply nuanced understanding of the federal landscape.

The right strategic partner can help agencies navigate this delicate balance between retention, onboarding, and knowledge transfer in an efficient and effective way.

Greater bargaining power leads to increased employee turnover

Before agencies can improve their knowledge transfer, they must first understand the root cause behind increasing employee turnover numbers. The reason for this trend is two-fold.

First, we’re seeing more employees retire as a natural consequence of the Baby Boomer generation aging out of the workforce. This generation has spent decades in the public sector and carries with them a deep wealth of institutional knowledge. Further complicating matters is the fact that many Baby Boomers have ascended to the upper levels of government leadership, leaving them little free time to document the historical context behind broader industry trends or the full scope of legacy federal systems. Instead, their time is more often spent on handling emergent crises and advancing their agency’s agenda. Federal agencies will need to dedicate time and resources to finding ways to better document this institutional knowledge as part of the retirement transition.

The second group of employees to pay attention to is the younger, more mobile workforce. The pandemic introduced a new dynamic of broadly available remote work. For government employees in particular, virtual work has leveled the playing field by giving workers more leverage. If employees can theoretically work from anywhere, that means they can apply for—and obtain—far more jobs, ultimately leaving them with a greater sense of mobility. The number of companies who are currently hiring for remote positions doesn’t help matters either, as it allows workers to explore numerous competitive opportunities if workplace flexibility is a priority for them.

And while increased telework hasn’t necessarily affected employee productivity as much as leadership feared, we are seeing a certain correlation between remote work and decreasing employee tenure at companies. As many as 60% of job seekers report looking for remote opportunities, and they’re willing to quit their in-person jobs to make the switch. With workers changing jobs more frequently, knowledge continuity has suffered. In addition to recording historical industry knowledge, federal agencies must improve everyday process documentation while also making onboarding more efficient to compensate for growing employee turnover.

Knowledge continuity processes must progress with the times

In the past, federal knowledge transfer has often looked like standard operating procedure (SOP) documents or continuity books. But the issue with these documents is they often get shoved to the back of a drawer or lost in a digital file somewhere once a new employee starts who can bring their knowledge and expertise to the task at hand.

Instead of one-off static documents, agencies should focus on creating living, breathing files that can evolve alongside the people who use them. Part of this involves embracing the digital aspect of our current work environments. Ensure your team has a clear set of measurable goals to guide their efforts, and don’t be afraid to test a variety of options to find the technology that works best for your team.

Many agencies also have to compete with the private sector, which tends to have more resources to devote towards retention bonuses and other employee satisfaction measures. If establishing knowledge continuity procedures amid increasing workloads is a challenge for your agency, try outsourcing to a vendor partner.

Today’s speed of data combined with the rate at which we’re seeing employees cycle in and out of jobs means that agencies need someone to act as a center of stability and provide the framework to document everyday processes and procedures. Outsourcing to a third party allows agencies to more easily codify decision points and understand the reasoning behind past decisions without having to spend as many resources on employee retention and documentation—something that many agencies lack the flexibility to do. When screening for the right partner, look for a vendor that can offer strong data and analytics capabilities as well as change management services to analyze trends, identify roadblocks, and implement solutions.

Knowledge transfer is a significant issue in the federal government. Re-learning lessons, repeating missions, and losing contextual knowledge creates organizational inefficiencies and is frustrating for the employees that remain. Not only must agencies tap the knowledge of departing employees to ensure it gets passed on, they must also circulate that knowledge to the team as a whole so that a single departure or addition does not delay or derail progress. By investing in their current employees and creating smarter processes for offboarding and onboarding their evolving workforce, the public sector will be able to weather the “Great Resignation” and continue fulfilling its mission-critical functions.

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