04/10/2012 12:45 pm ET Updated Jun 10, 2012

Feds Express Appreciation for Attrition

With Baby Boomers exiting the workforce and budgets becoming increasingly strained, there will continue to be a high level of employee turnover in every sector, and government is no exception.

High attrition rates are often considered negative indicators for an agency's health, but last week GovLoop blogger Doris Tirone wondered: "Is there an upside to high turnover?"

"I learned rather early in my working career, while spending some significant amount of time in the military, that turnover was usually a good thing," said Henry Brown, a retired federal employee. "The challenge in my civilian career was to implement the turnover with minimal disruption to all concerned."

Jo Youngblood, a Program Coordinator with the Texas Transportation Institute also sees positive potential for employee attrition. "Turnover is an opportunity to capitalize on innovation. And right, your highest performers are more likely to leave in turnover scenarios especially if there is no room for upward mobility for them from their current position or there is not enough support for their current position. But that doesn't mean that the next person that comes in won't have an idea or two about how to get the job done."

One federal employee acknowledged that there are both pros and cons of employee turnover. "Unfortunately, most of the people who end up leaving are usually the highest performers. I enjoy turnover when low performers leave, but this is rare. It's always nice to have new (i.e. younger) employees in the office. They tend to bring enthusiasm and are motivated to perform (at least for a month or two). I enjoy this breath of fresh air."

Not all GovLoop members were convinced of these benefits, as many continued to believe that high turnover can only bring negative consequences.

John Husfield, former Webmaster at the University of South Florida, explained the core problem: "There is a reason turnover is viewed so negatively -- it damages projects, departments, and staff. The solution is to use good management techniques to avoid the pitfall of turnover. In organizations where turnover is a re-occuring issue, look to the manager -- this person likely needs training or replacement."

In the end, an employee's take on turnover is what shapes their ability to cope with the change and emerge from it with a sense of opportunity or uncertainty -- whether they've lost their job or left to pick up the slack.

"Any change can be good if you have a good attitude to face the changes," said program manager Deb Green. "Even 'good' change can be a bad experience if you convince yourself it's a negative event. Perspective is everything."