Courthouse Journal Blog

The Courthouse Journal is the official weekly newsletter of the Washington Association of County Officials. The Courthouse Journal Blog is a collection of publications relevant to WACO members, their staff, and others. *This blog is not updated on a schedule.

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Feb 09

The Universal Problem of Recruitment & Retention

Posted on February 9, 2024 at 10:53 PM by Cella Hyde

“As someone who used to work in state government, I think a big challenge for hiring is awareness about what it means to work in local government.” – Devin Bales, Director of Research, DHM Research

Across the offices of local government officials, there are many niche and specific issues that each office faces that others do not understand. However, one recurring theme that only seems to be growing in frequency, is the trouble that all local government offices are facing in recruiting and retaining quality and invested staff.

Devin oversees research product quality, leads DHM’s research and business development across Washington State, and presents research findings to clients, community groups, and media.

“I think data from our statewide surveys suggest the same.” Devin says, “People often convey that they want job characteristics that are offered by working in local government, but so many folks don’t think about local government as an option that provides competitive pay and great benefits. At face value local government jobs might not sound as exciting to folks compared to private sector jobs with companies they have heard of, especially for younger people.”

Washington has an incredibly competitive landscape, and opportunities are everywhere. But, at the same time, it’s not just local government offices that are struggling to hire. Nearly every industry across the board is fighting the ongoing battle of recruitment and retention – and a lot of it has to do with changing wants from employees.

According to Gallup, an American analytics and advisory company known for its public opinion polls that are conducted worldwide, nearly half of the workforce in the U.S. is now made up of Gen Z and Millennials. When they polled that group, they came back with a few major items that the new workforce prioritizes:

  1. A workplace/employer that cares about their wellbeing.
  2. Leaders/offices/employers that are ethical and transparent.
  3. Leaders who support a diverse and inclusive environment.

DHM research polls showed similar results.

“One of the biggest things we found in our last couple of workplace related surveys is that it is really important to folks to have a manager that cares about them and their professional success.” Devin told us, “Leadership should allow managers the space and time to foster strong relationships with folks they manage.”

VidaNyx, a leading cloud-based Digital Video Evidence Management solution for public good, has been closely studying the struggle that Prosecutors specifically face in recruitment and retention, and they agree wholeheartedly.

“I feel it is important for leaders to find out what an individual employee’s short and long term aspirations are, whether it’s to get better at closing arguments or to become a supervisor in the office, so that they can invest in helping them reach those goals and making them feel valued.” Brittany Ford, VidaNyx’s Prosecution Outreach Specialist said, “Additionally, learning where an individual’s character or personality fits within the larger team goes a long way in maintaining a respectful, inviting culture.”

Caring about an employee’s well-being, and their personal goals, aspirations, and learning styles shows employees an investment in them not just as staff, but as fellow human beings – and people definitely remember when they’re valued and met with consideration. In the long run, taking the bit of time to ask what’s going on with your staff can result in strengthened bonds on a professional level, and an overall increase in employee investment to achieving office success.

“In my opinion, recruitment and retention are interdependent on each other. Once a new prosecutor is hired, the job is not done. Starting on day one, you are essentially recruiting new hires to stay.” Brittany said, “It’s an ongoing process requiring equal investment into both recruitment and retention.”

Viewing the situation as two continuous and ongoing parts, recruitment and retention, and reviewing the list of needs from Gallup’s survey, one thing may stand out as connecting everything – communication.

“The work I do now often involves working with local governments, comms teams, and my research team. Comms folks who work in local government are, in my experience, exceptional at bridging gaps.” Said Devin Bales. Devin isn’t off in that idea.

Last year, WACO hosted a social media training that was led by Mike Allende, the Social Media Manager for Washington State Department of Transit (WSDOT).  Mike had an incredibly insightful take on the issue.

“The public already has a conception that we are a faceless agency full of drones who have no concept of ‘the real world.’” Mike said about building trust with the public, “…you shouldn’t be afraid to interact with the public in a way that lets them know you’re a real person... [One of the biggest benefits of social media is that] it allows us to humanize our agency in a way that we can’t do via a website or press releases. It allows us to have a voice, to respond to the public in real time, to be a part of the community.”

And that community is where we find the majority of our staff. If Gallup’s poll reflects current attitudes, then having a presence on social media is almost required to start appealing to qualified job applicants. Without it, not only do you solely depend on algorithmic job boards, but you leave applicants with unanswered questions when they go to search who you are, who is on your team, and the atmosphere they could be signing up for. For many, the lack of that “face” and transparency could cause them to turn away.

“I think with all of the options employers have for marketing jobs it makes it easier to get your job in front of more people, but the flip side is it is easier for everyone to do that - and it is harder to stand out in recruitment. I think in modern recruitment you have to meet people where they are (social media, job boards, etc.).” According to Devin, the ability to show your work and workplace is paramount if you want to win quality staff that wants to stay long-term.

“People want to feel good about the places they work,” Devin said – and almost all surveys across the board agree. “Listen to your employees. If you can create an environment where people can share openly and feel heard, and you are working toward meeting their needs in a genuine fashion, I think people will want to keep working for you!”

The work to make an environment where people feel good, valued, and heard doesn’t have to be complicated. Talking to your staff about what makes a work day better could be the first easy step. For some teams, it might be as simple as having something to look forward to together (like the Halloween door decorating party at the Jefferson County Courthouse!) for others, it might be as easy as contacting WACO to schedule a DEI&B training so they can continue their professional growth and feel more comfortable on their team.

Does it sound like we suddenly switched to discussing retention? You’re spot on! Like Brittany from VidaNyx said earlier, the two are interconnected. Working to retain your current staff, and sharing how that looks with the public, is the missing piece in the recruitment and retention fight. Cultivating a space where employees like to work, and then sharing that with the public, makes the public want to be a part of the experience – it makes qualified candidates want to be a part of your team.

After all these discussions and reviewing the data from a plethora of surveys, the most important question facing the recruitment and retention process becomes clearer. Is your current team happy in the environment you’ve cultivated? Like, actually happy to come in every day? When was the last time you asked?

“Don’t make assumptions and keep lines of communication open.” Brittany from VidaNyx warns, “Leaders shouldn’t take silence as a sign that everyone is content or even just keeping their heads above water. In turn, teams shouldn’t assume leaders are not working on the problem or advocating for them just because they are not receiving a play by play.”

One of Devin’s final thoughts regarding the survey results from DHM Research only backs up Brittany’s warning, “For retention, we are definitely seeing folks have higher expectations for the support they get from their employers regarding work life balance and mental health. To keep people around it is important to have both of those.”

So how do you approach this whole thing and how do you start the open conversation with your team?

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Thank you to WACO Annual Conference Sponsor Guardify for sponsoring the 2023 Recruitment & Retention sessions.

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Sponsored by Guardify (formerly known as VidaNyx). Guardify is the leading cloud-based digital video evidence management solution for public good, serving child advocacy organizations, child protective services, prosecuting attorneys, and law enforcement organizations. Guardify for Prosecutors is a digital platform that makes evidence simple, safe, and secure. Learn more: https://guardify.com/