How to keep talent? Money alone won't guarantee job satisfaction.

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 18, 2011; 8:30 PM

Uncle Sam doesn't have a big problem retaining his workers - at the moment.

But that could change.

While he's still a good boss, the two-year pay freeze and, especially, proposals to cut retiree benefits could push some of his best staffers out the door.

Keeping them on the job is the focus of a report, "Keeping Talent," which the Partnership for Public Service and the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton plan to release Wednesday.

"Managers need to do a lot more to be sure they keep their talent," Max Stier, president of the Partnership, said in an interview. The Partnership is a nonprofit organization that studies federal workplace issues. It has a content-sharing relationship with The Washington Post.

On the list of serious problems - Afghanistan, Iraq, national finances, social problems, divided government - attrition doesn't rate much attention. Why should it? The federal 5.85 attrition rate in fiscal 2009 was down from 7.6 percent the year before. Meanwhile, attrition in the private sector is significantly higher, 9.2 percent.

Yet the relatively low federal attrition rate can lull agencies into complacency and mask deeper problems, leading officials to underestimate the need for well-considered retention policies.

"Attrition may not seem to be a problem overall, but there are pockets within agencies and across government where turnover is high and problematic," the report says.

In those pockets are new employees, those close to retirement and workers in "mission-critical jobs."

Mission-critical jobs include "stem" gigs - scientific, technical, engineering and mathematical positions, said Ron Sanders, senior executive adviser at Booz Allen and a veteran government personnel official. Experts in cybersecurity, foreign-language speakers and people with security clearances also are in demand, by Sam and his private competitors. That makes it easy for them to leave.

"They can vote with their feet if they want to," Sanders said.

More federal workers may decide they want to do just that unless retention gets more attention. "Many agencies do not consider employee retention to be a serious concern at this time," according to "Keeping Talent."

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