Overcoming Challenges in Public Sector Recruitment and Retention

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Evidence points to a clear link between staffing shortages in government roles and negative impacts on crucial services such as public safety and health.1 This underscores the critical need for sustainable staffing and HR practices in government organizations. Unfortunately, all levels of government across the United States (U.S.) face instability in their workforce, falling short of sustainable staffing levels. A comprehensive succession plan can help leaders bridge the gap between their team’s current state and where it needs to be to function effectively.

Staffing Challenges in U.S. Government

Every year, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) administers the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). This survey is designed to assess employee perspectives on various aspects of federal employment, including leadership, development opportunities, succession planning, and other talent management matters. According to last year’s FEVS, 1 in 3 federal government employees would not recommend their organization as a good place to work.2 This alarming figure reflects a significant level of dissatisfaction among federal employees.

What is the Future Outlook of Public Sector Retention?

At the state and local level, the outlook remains similarly troubling. A survey of 592 local government leaders revealed that 1 in 4 respondents do not envision themselves working in a government role within the next two years.3 Those numbers have increased from 1 in 5 in 2020, indicating that turnover rates are rising.4 This challenge is amplified by the fact that 61% of these leaders also reported encountering significant difficulties in the recruitment process.5 Consequently, local governments are struggling on two fronts: not only are they losing existing talent, they are also facing hurdles in attracting and retaining new talent. If left unchecked, these challenges can significantly destabilize organizations. Leaders must therefore prioritize the implementation of an effective strategic response.

The Source of the Recruitment and Retention Challenges

Before strategic solutions can be implemented, leaders must understand the root cause of the issue. This allows for strategic responses to be targeted and efficient. In this case, the challenge is that job satisfaction is low and turnover rates are high — both in federal and local government organizations. Why?  

Nearly 1 in 4 federal employees reported that they do not feel they are receiving professional development support from their supervisors.6 Furthermore, 82% of local government leaders have cited either a lack of internal advancement opportunities or better opportunities elsewhere as their reason for leaving.7 This suggests that development opportunities — or rather, a lack of development opportunities — is a critical factor contributing to low job satisfaction and high turnover among U.S. government employees. The solution to the challenge must therefore involve the integration of employee development initiatives across federal, state, and local government organizations. A comprehensive succession plan can help leaders accomplish this both efficiently and effectively.

How Can Public Sector Organizations Take Action

It is important to note that the desire for professional development opportunities is shared by both government employees and their employers. A significant 70% of local government organizations express a commitment to employee development — leadership development in particular (68%)8 — and 49% of local government leaders already acknowledge that their primary need for improvement lies in attracting and retaining talent. This indicates a basic alignment of interests between employees and employers. However, the challenge lies in translating this theoretical agreement into practical action. To bridge this gap, organizations must utilize their available resources, no matter how limited, to provide opportunities for employee advancement within the organization. Implementing a standardized process for succession planning can assist leaders in creating and sustaining these opportunities efficiently, leading to beneficial outcomes with minimal effort.

Next Steps

It is crucial for organizations to regularly evaluate their current situation in comparison to their ideal state. Leaders must establish strategic goals aimed at the ongoing improvement of operations and relationships, ensuring these goals are objective and data-driven. To support your leaders, we have summarized key trends and conclusions from data gathered by the U.S. OPM’s 2023 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

For more detailed insights, download SIGMA Assessment Systems’ report, “Human Resources in 2024: A Multi-Level U.S. Government Analysis.”

Key takeaways from the 2023 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey

  • Federal and local government organizations require sufficient time and resources to make recruitment and retention a top priority. 
  • Government leaders must be intentional and efficient about using available resources to implement recruitment and retention initiatives.
  • Prioritizing employee development opportunities is essential for successful talent recruitment and retention.
  • Understanding and effectively targeting Generation Z in recruitment efforts is crucial for future staffing success.

A comprehensive succession planning process can help government leaders address these challenges. To learn more, read An Introduction to Succession Planning for Local Governments, or explore SIGMA’s succession planning services below.

Our Succession Planning Services

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Talk to an Expert

Would you like to learn more about SIGMA’s succession planning services? Talk to one of our experts and get started today. Glen Harrison is an organizational transformation consultant and succession planning expert. Over the course of his career, Glen has worked with one-third of the Fortune 500 list and with every level of government in Canada and the United States. Having worked with numerous clients to build robust succession plans from the ground up, Glen has extensive experience in the application of SIGMA’s products and services to help organizations realize their people potential.

Meet the Team


Brittney Anderson, Ph.D.

Senior Consultant & Executive Coach

Brittney is a member of our coaching and consulting team. She brings her expertise in evidence-based practice to provide companies with leadership solutions that meet their needs. Primarily, Brittney helps her clients prepare for their future with succession planning and comprehensive leadership development programs. As an executive coach, she helps leaders hone their skills using a process-based approach to development.


Erica Sutherland, Ph.D.

Senior Consultant & Executive Coach

Erica completed her Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational psychology at Western University. She is a Senior Consultant at SIGMA, where she delivers consulting services and Succession Planning solutions to clients. As a member of SIGMA’s executive coaching team, Erica works one-on-one with leaders to develop talent. She also brings her expertise in measurement and psychometrics to the R&D team, assisting with the development and validation of SIGMA’s many assessments.

Arieana Thompson, Ph.D.

Senior Consultant

Arieana is a senior leadership consultant. She believes in positively transforming the modern-day workplace through thought-provoking, evidence-based insights. Arieana is a subject matter expert in executive leadership, succession management, wellness cultures, and employee growth. In her work at SIGMA, she supports executive teams with succession planning and leadership development and assessment.

Ready to Start Succession Planning?

SIGMA’s Succession Planning Launch is a great place to begin. In just two sessions, we will work with your leadership team to build a succinct succession plan that meets the needs of your organization.

1 MissionSquare Research Institute. June 2023. State and Local Workforce: 2023 Survey Findings. MissionSquare Research Institute. [PDF]. Retrieved from https://research.missionsq.org/content/media/document/2023/05/2023workforce.pdf.

2 OPM. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. (2023). OPM FEVS Dashboard. OPM. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/fevs/reports/opm-fevs-dashboard/.

3 OpenGov. (2023). The State of Local Government Survey 2023. OpenGov. Retrieved from https://go.opengov.com/rs/884-HTB905/images/State%20of%20Local%20Government%20Survey%202023.pdf.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 OPM. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. (2023). OPM FEVS Dashboard. OPM. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/fevs/reports/opm-fevs-dashboard/.

7 MissionSquare Research Institute. June 2023. State and Local Workforce: 2023 Survey Findings. MissionSquare Research Institute. [PDF]. Retrieved from https://research.missionsq.org/content/media/document/2023/05/2023workforce.pdf.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

About the Author

Helen Schroeder

Marketing Coordinator

Helen completed a dual degree with Ivey Business School’s HBA program and Western University’s Honours Specialization in Psychology. As a Marketing Coordinator and Consultant she creates and manages content for SIGMA’s webpages, blogs, and coaching resources. Helen also assists in new product development, go-to-market strategy, and client consultation.