Being Mission Driven Won’t Save the Public Sector from the #GreatResignation

Posted on November 17, 2021

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Today’s Morning Buzz is by Greg LeBlanc. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn

  • What I’m Reading: Silence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge
  • What I’m Watching: Old VHS tapes of the Red Green Show 
  • What I’m Listening to: “Trick to Happy” by Bahamas

Who else is following the conversation around the #GreatResignation? We frequently hear employees are feeling overworked and overwhelmed as workforce reports indicate that more Americans are leaving their jobs. We also hear about an increase in burnout, and how this is causing some workers to switch careers.

The hallmark of the #GreatResignation is that members of the workforce are leaving their current roles and looking for employment elsewhere, often pivoting careers in the process. According to recent workforce reports, local governments lag other sectors in employment growth, and I would hazard a guess that many who read this are struggling to fill positions in their respective organizations. 

There are many factors that play into our current employment environment – supply chain issues, ever-increasing expectations for service delivery and for many, operating in under the constraints of a pandemic-stricken budget. Employees rule in this environment and as local government leaders, we need to refocus how we attract (and retain) talent. 

Local governments are known for dedicated employees who tirelessly serve their communities because they feel the drawn to public service. I am sure that this resonates on some level with many of our readers, and maybe some have even cited this as a reason for entering a career in local government. This central tenant of public service suggests that the core mission of local government is to serve the communities in which we live. While correct, when it comes to appealing to top talent, it is critical for the public sector to not rest solely on the idea of being mission-driven as a means for attracting and retaining workforce. Without proper follow-through and delivering on their missions, local governments will continue to feel the effects of the #GreatResignation.

Being “Mission-Driven” is more than checking a box. 

Many local governments list a mission statement as a monolith to what they stand for as an organization. Often, these statements reflect the vision and values of the community. Increasingly, local governments are visibly stating these types of purposeful statements as a method of attracting talent, as if to suggest that their mission is worthy of consideration by job seekers because being mission-driven is a noble effort. 

Where organizations fall short is by not incorporating the mission into the organization past a slogan on a website or while in the interview process. For example, if an organization’s mission is to serve all members of the community, leadership should note that its employees are also members of the community and should be valued like any other resource. Proper continuation of a mission extends to employees after they are hired by placing emphasis on employee satisfaction. Afterall, local governments cannot operate without happy, passionate, and dedicated people. 

The mission only matters when people believe in it.

Being a mission-driven organization has gained popularity in recent years. Evidence supports the benefits of having purpose for attracting and retaining employees. However, this benefit is only realized when leadership possesses a clear mission and highlights its advantages with high-level direction and positive company culture. When local government leaders support their mission to employees, employees feel more engaged and invested in the work they perform. In the public sector, these leaders tie themselves to the mission of public service as a reason for service delivery.

However, local governments are facing a harder challenge. A recent workforce report detailed that public sector (public administration) job growth was down 9.4% year over year, and a more recent report shows that public sector workforce is one of the slowest growing sectors.

This might suggest that the public sector has an image problem. In my experience working in local government, I have found that municipalities are some of the most innovative organizations because their motivation is not profit for shareholders, but rather delivering high-quality services to their residents in the most fiscally responsible manner. The problem is that the great work of government is often overshadowed by negative public perceptions. 

Local governments that are mission-driven should not only stand for their missions, but also act accordingly. Those organizations that are driven by public service should mean what they say and say what they mean — both internally and externally. In the context of the #GreatResignation, local government leaders need to be cognizant of how they communicate with the public and show (not just tell) how their organizations are making a difference. Without demonstrating their value to a community and prospective employees, local governments will continue to lag behind other sectors in job growth. 

Create a culture that matches your mission.

Culture is the environment that surrounds us all the time. A workplace culture is the shared values, belief systems, attitudes and the set of assumptions of people in the workplace. In a workplace, this is shaped to some extent by social and cultural context, but leadership and strategic organizational direction can greatly influence workplace culture. 

A positive workplace culture improves teamwork, raises morale, increases productivity and efficiency, and enhances retention of the workforce. Job satisfaction, collaboration, and work performance are all enhanced. And, most importantly, a positive workplace environment reduces stress in employees. 

When culture matches the mission, prospective employees will feel attracted to your organization and existing employees will show loyalty. In an environment where the public sector has the added challenge of attracting talent, it is not enough to do good work for the community if internal practices do not match.

What can local government leaders can do? 

As someone who has pivoted careers to get to my current public sector role, I know that working for an organization with only a mission is not enough to satisfy my needs in the workplace. Local government leaders are facing a challenge with the #GreatResignation and need to look introspectively how they are aligning their missions with the sentiments of the workforce. 

If you are a local government leader, do you practice your organization’s mission? Are you in touch with your people? Do you have methods for learning what your employees think? Remember that simply stating that you have a mission does not mean your internal culture is aligned with the purpose. 

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