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By Linda Misegadis, Public Sector Business Consulting Director, UKG

Human resources plays a key role in managing state and local employees, their work culture and the work environment. In the private sector most chief human resource officers are considered strategic business partners and have a seat at the leadership table when it comes to making business decisions that impact the people needed to deliver the work.


Sadly, the same is frequently not the case in the public sector. Based on my observations and the time I have spent both working in and supporting state and local governments, I have identified a number of reasons why public sector human resource departments often fail to achieve the goals that their leaders work long and hard hours trying to achieve. The list just begins with:


  • Budget constraints 

  • Overly long hiring processes built into the system 

  • Lower pay scales 

  • Lack of training 

  • Insufficient executive level support


This matters.


Human resource departments hold the potential to drive meaningful organizational transformation and employee satisfaction. While traditionally confined to administrative tasks, HR is capable of shaping policies and practices that foster employee engagement, diversity, and inclusion. By amplifying the voice of public sector organizations, they can unlock their full potential and create environments where employees thrive. This in turn results in happier employees delivering services to their constituents. 


Following are eight of the key roles that human resource departments can and should fill if the entities in which they work are to relish the kind of success that an energized, satisfied, engaged and collaborative workforce can deliver.


  • Strategic Business Partners: 


Today, HR professionals should serve as strategic partners, collaborating closely with leadership to align human capital strategies with organizational objectives. By leveraging their insights into workforce dynamics, HR can advise on talent acquisition, retention strategies, and performance management, ensuring that people resources are optimized to support the overarching mission of public sector organizations.


  • Employee Engagement: 


A highly engaged workforce is the cornerstone of organizational success. HR plays a pivotal role in fostering this kind of culture. Through initiatives such as regular feedback mechanisms, recognition programs, and professional development opportunities, HR can cultivate an environment where employees feel valued and motivated. By championing open communication and addressing employee concerns proactively, HR can enhance job satisfaction, productivity, and retention rates within the public sector. 


  • Workforce Planning and Development: 


In an era of rapid technological advancement and evolving job roles, effective workforce planning is imperative for public sector organizations to stay ahead. HR professionals excel in analyzing workforce trends, identifying skill gaps, and designing tailored development programs. By collaborating with departmental heads and leveraging data analytics, HR can anticipate future staffing needs and implement initiatives such as training programs, succession planning, and talent pipelines, ensuring that the workforce remains adaptable and equipped with the skills needed to tackle emerging challenges.


  • Skills-Based Hiring: 


Traditional hiring practices often overlook valuable talent due to rigid education qualification requirements. HR can spearhead skills-based hiring initiatives that prioritize competencies, experiences, and potential over formal credentials. Embracing a more inclusive approach to recruitment permits HR to tap into a diverse talent pool and promote equity within public sector organizations. Skills-based hiring not only fosters innovation but also enhances organizational agility and resilience in the face of change. 


  • Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging: 


Promoting equity, inclusion, and belonging is essential for creating a supportive work environment where every employee can thrive. HR can lead the charge by implementing policies and practices that eliminate biases, foster diversity, and create equal opportunities for all. From conducting diversity training to establishing employee resource groups, HR plays a crucial role in driving cultural change and ensuring that everyone feels valued and respected within the public sector. 


  • Leadership Development and Manager Training: 


Effective leadership is vital for navigating complex challenges and inspiring teams to achieve their full potential. HR can facilitate leadership development programs and training initiatives for managers to cultivate a pipeline of capable leaders within the public sector. By providing managers with the necessary skills and tools to lead with empathy, integrity, and vision, HR can nurture a culture of accountability and excellence at all levels of the organization.


  • Employee Career Planning:  


Anticipating and preparing for leadership transitions is essential for ensuring organizational continuity and stability. HR can spearhead employee succession planning efforts by identifying high-potential talent, providing them with developmental opportunities, and creating clear career pathways. By nurturing internal talent and promoting from within, public sector organizations can mitigate risks associated with leadership turnover and maintain institutional knowledge and expertise. 


  • Benefits: 


Comprehensive benefits packages are instrumental in attracting and retaining top talent in the public sector. HR can design benefits programs that meet the diverse needs of employees, including healthcare, retirement plans, flexible work arrangements, wellness programs and professional development opportunities. By offering competitive benefits, HR enhances employee satisfaction and loyalty, contributing to overall organizational success. 


By prioritizing these eight central missions for HR, leaders can elevate the employee experience and propel public sector organizations towards excellence and innovation. It is time to recognize the transformative potential of HR and invest in its capacity to shape the future of the public sector.


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