Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Talent Drain

When I left my previous job to come to my current position, it was a difficult decision not least because I was a public servant.  My job gave me a lot of pride, and even though it didn't occur to me consciously every day, the fact that even my telephone said I was "serving America's economy" was never lost on me either.  I loved my team, I got stressed about my work, but the initial love affair I had that had me telling people "you're going to have to pry this job out of my cold, dead hands" never actually truly ended.  It just became distracted, divided, and overridden.  Fear for the future is fear for the future, no matter now much reward you get from a day's work, and I was afraid.

Though my reasoning at the time was not precisely accurate, it IS true that with subsequent changes at my old department, the likelihood they would have been able to keep me is almost unthinkable.  My reasoning was based on old assumptions, but the outcomes were what I feared, and so the move was the right thing for me.  In short:  my group got smaller.

It might have been possible for me to stay in public service, to find a new niche in the same world - but I had to take care of myself, and the interviews I had there didn't promise exactly what I need.  And so, I left.

I happened to leave for a wildly different culture and employment, but it also happened that someone I'd known at Public Service Employer had pre-departed me for this place.

Today, I met a third person who's left that public service world for this new employer.

This is, for those who haven't heard of it:  talent drain.  It's the depletion of human resources in public service, which has occurred over a period of years of screeching that public servants "get" too much (as defined by those who get it all).  There has been a systematic insistence that government, civil, and administrative employees serving our economic and civic institutions are a drain on our economy - and the end result at this point is budgets so constrained that the men I worked for for my years at that job got not one raise - not only during my tenture, but even predating me by a year or two.  These are people dedicated to preserving the financial well being of the entire nation - and they're not starving - but we're doing nothing to "incent" (to use the corporate-speak term) their continuing service.  These are people who do what they do with no mean measure of pride and ambition, even if that ambition does not translate to the sort of thing coveted by those politicians and blowhards so eager to point fingers at MY former coworkers as entitlement junkies.

During my three and a half years in that job, our senior executive used to talk about retention of talent.  He went to pretty great lengths to see a project through and still maintain the talented team who implemented it - and, whether I turned my coat and left or not, whether I had faith or should have or not:  he was not wrong.  He would talk about the ridiculous waste of recruiting a team of the stellar talents our group brought to the table, and not holding on to those people.  And, whether it scared ME or not, I know to a unique degree just what he was fighting against in terms of budget constraints.  I saw some of the sacrifices asked, and I saw Isaac walk away from the stone.

I thought I might be the sacrificial goat at one point ... but I walked away too.

And that is the shame of it, the true pity of the sacrifices made by an entire, gargantuan nation's worth of *human* resources, who have been constrained and restrained from growth and held down by our economy's more difficult passages.  That those who could strengthen our important institutions are squeezed out - that the governments and agencies and infrastructure which once ran our country from the bottom up  have been denuded of the strength and talents of people like the woman I knew here before I left to come work here - like me - like the new person who's come over the wall - like that one guy I'd love to see "do better" than he can where he is.

There is a saying at my former employer.  "You don't get rich working working for *****."  I always followed that up with, "Yeah, but you don't get poor either."

That was true.  I wasn't suffering from penury - only from fear.

But life with no hope of riches - indeed, yes, financial wealth as much as the personal (it HELPS, it is relevant, it's not greedy to want to be able to fix up one's house, or buy a new car after ten years in an old one) - is a hard prospect most of us can't sustain.  I couldn't stick with it.  I'm not alone.

How long can our institutions go on, losing those talented teams and individuals who dedicate themselves to service?

How long can we forgo hiring the thousands of entirely deserving, and driven, and intelligent people who've been unemployed for so long their futures are tapped out?

How is it okay, for a nation so invested in pride ... to humiliate and to shame - and to drive out (... to drain ...) those who make it truly run?  Not the politicians, but the WORKERS, the servants, those whose pride is paid in fear and scorn and less and less hope of real reward?


Mojourner said...

The "doing OK, even if I'm not making a ton" salaries of government workers also tend to be spent close to home. Cut these jobs, and your local economy bleeds, a phenomenon amplified in many rural communities where the guvment, perhaps much maligned, is a main employer.
Thanks for this post, from a guy who has had a pay cut finally restored, but no raise in 5 years.

TCW said...

My wife is in public service over here (in the UK). In fairness, she joined when the pension was still excellent (new joiners don't get it) so she'll stick it out. But the continual staff cuts and wage freezes sound familiar. And, yes, it is wrong for the government to continually denigrate its own employees. It's not the way you'd behave if you wanted your company to flourish and it isn't the way you should behave if you want your country to work either.

DLM said...

Tom, that's what astounds me - the chilling effect of stagnant wages etc. on employees has been shown time and time again to be bad for the bigwigs, and they continue to do it. The main problem, of course, being that on the way to their own feet, the bullets they shoot at 'em unfortunately go through several layers of subordinates first. SIGH.