UKG HR Megatrends and the Public Sector — A Roadmap for the Future

As the pandemic recedes into our rear-view mirrors, one impact we continue to see clearly is that the world of work has changed. The workplace adjustments that began as a temporary response to a global health crisis have led to a workplace evolution. 
Employees, including in government, have far different expectations than they did four years ago. Now, more than ever, they are demanding flexibility, voice, and wellbeing. 
If employers don’t meet this expectation, employees have made it clear they will vote with their feet and seek other employment. 
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), up to 4 million employees continue to quit their jobs each month. This crisis is particularly acute in the public sector. The most recent BLS monthly statistics show 549,000 vacancies in state and local government, but only 161,000 hires. This alarming ratio has stubbornly persisted month after month and is much higher than in the private sector. While businesses have regained the jobs lost during the pandemic, one estimate is that public sector employment is down by more than 625,000 jobs
It’s a vicious cycle. Workloads in government organizations have increased, causing more employee stress and turnover — and, yet, vacancies are tough to fill. 
As one local government HR director put it, “We’re all feeling the pain.” 
In response, the annual UKG HR Megatrends provide a roadmap for organizations, including in government, to navigate these uncharted waters. Each year, UKG assembles an international team of researchers, thought leaders, and social scientists who reflect on the previous year’s developments, assess their implications for leaders, including in HR, and predict how these forces will shape the future. And, most important, the HR Megatrends research reveals how organizations should respond to meet the increasing challenge of attracting and retaining talent. 
The 2024 UKG HR Megatrends 
The UKG experts identified three HR Megatrends for 2024: 

  • Redefining the employee/employer relationship — the need to create a positive employee experience by abandoning a one-size-fits-all approach. 
  • From buying, building, and borrowing to mining talent — a fourth option to acquiring talent and developing skills. 
  • The impending gut check around environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues — intensifying political and cultural wars are putting ESG, especially diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B), under a microscope. 

Each HR Megatrend has important implications for government. 
Redefining the employee/employer relationship. I often say that the biggest challenge facing government is attracting, developing, and engaging talent. Meeting this challenge requires delivering a positive employee experience that builds employee engagement. Thirty years of research, including in government, have shown that engaged employees drive organizational success. And the employee experience — the moments that matter that determine how the employee feels about the employer — drives engagement. 
But organizations must customize this experience as much as possible to meet the individual needs of employees. Among other things, this means looking behind stereotypes about the needs, expectations, and behaviors of the different generations in the workplace. Aggregate statistical data mean little for individual employees. Putting a person in one category, based any single characteristic such as their age, minimizes the value of their life experiences. 
Mining talent. To build talent, organizations traditionally hire or develop employees. However, as the workforce crisis persists, these solutions are not enough. We must also mine talent. That is, identify current employees with hidden skills that can enable them to thrive in other positions. This takes knowing employees’ capabilities — and it also takes some creativity and imagination. 
Mining talent also means eliminating arbitrary requirements for college degrees and years of experience that limit talent pools. Eliminating these qualifications where they are not necessary can expand talent pools, including internally, by many multiples. 
Dealing with the ESG controversy. There is much discussion in the private sector about the corporate responsibility to focus on ESG issues. Many companies produce glossy reports proclaiming how they are helping to protect the environment, dealing with social issues, and managing their companies ethically. 
There is less discussion about ESG in the public sector, perhaps because many government agencies were specifically created to focus on these issues, and therefore don’t have to reorient their priorities. 
However, one area of ESG that is particularly important to —– and controversial in — government is DEI&B. 
Too often, these discussions generate more heat than light. What gets lost is the business case for why organizations must continue or expand their focus on DEI&B. In short, diverse and inclusive organizations make better decisions, perform better, are more innovative, and are more attractive to job seekers. 
Despite the business case, DEI&B efforts are too often failing. For example, while 97% of HR leaders believe their organizations have improved DEI&B, only 37% of employees agree. Moreover, almost 50% of female and minority leaders say they must leave their organizations to advance professionally. 
As the UKG HR Megatrends research reveals, 2024 is the year that will distinguish the talkers from the walkers. To attract and retain talent in our new world of work, public sector organizations must customize the employee experience, mine talent, and improve DEI&B.