Employee Retention & Culture in the Municipal Workplace

Jan 16 / Elizabeth Oulton
Do you find retaining your municipal employees to be difficult? 

Could it be that some of your workflows are outdated?  

Or maybe it’s Maine’s bureaucratic systems... After all, the private sector has more competitive salaries.  

What is the work experience like for your employees?

Does your leadership inspire your people to go beyond what is asked of them? 

If training really does improve retention, do you have solid, repeatable systems in place to keep your team informed and learning?

Follow along in this post for some ways to take your municipal employees from unengaged to thriving and unmotivated to eager to tackle more meaningful tasks.

Forward Thinking

With more of a mix of generations residing in the work force, department heads must keep their eyes open for how a mix of creative thinkers and manual laborers from ages 18 and beyond can work well as one.  

How can you make this happen?  

Adopt a mindset of forward-thinking in your department. It starts with you, as manager, but it does not end there. Utilizing your multi-generational workforce to collaborate on projects or encouraging your group during team meetings will aid your department. And it will motivate your employees individually to stay right where they are- all while thinking forward. 

Can retaining municipal employees be difficult?

It can be a challenge maintaining your workforce when competition is offering better rates of pay. How can you make your employee’s time with your municipality worth the stay?  

Not surprisingly, municipalities offer some of the best benefits on the market. Capitalize on this, but don’t make it your selling point. Comparatively, private sector companies have excellent work cultures even if their benefit packages don’t measure up.  

Understaffed, Overworked

If your department is understaffed, there is a great likelihood your employees will burn out. It’s tough for employees- even the loyal ones- to stay through extended periods of time like this.  

Overworking your staff can mean a lot more than an exhausted team. It can mean paying a greater price than overtime.  

It costs organizations more money to onboard new employees than it does to keep and take care of current ones. So, how can you keep your people from overworking for longer periods of time? 

Start by acknowledging the workload and the lack of workers. Compassion and validation have a place here. Saying up front that you see your people helps them know you care, or at least know the struggle you are working through as a team.  

The result? An encouraged team and a healthier work culture because of it. 

Keep them updated. Don’t just give one pep talk. Let your team know as far as is appropriate where you’re at in the hiring process. I.e., how much longer they must work this hard before there is some reprieve. 

Training and Professional Development

Company growth can at large be attributed to well-rounded, qualified and learned employees. How to get there? Start with training! 

Ongoing learning and opportunities for growth will keep an employee hungry at work. If people have something to work for, they can rise to the challenge. 

“Once you stop learning you start dying,” Albert Einstein said. Robert Kiyosaki said, “When you cease to learn, you cease to grow. And when you cease to grow, you cease to improve, get better, move forward and just sort of begin to - exist.” 

Allowing your employees the wonderful chance to learn, figure out their superpower at work, and contribute in the way they’ve been created to? That will keep your municipal employee eager to work and make your town or city a better place. 


Keeping your employees satisfied and therefore working well is largely about culture. Do your people want to show up? Do they feel united?  

Work used to be show up, put your head down, do your work, and clock out. It is so much more than that now. People want to belong and contribute. They want to know that what they are doing matters and is helpful.  

As a supervisor, how do you answer the following questions? 
  • Do I intentionally encourage each of my employees and/or managers every day? 
  • Do I intentionally check in with each of my employees and/or managers every week? 
  • Do I celebrate staff wins at least every month? 
  • What is one action I can take today to improve the atmosphere of my team?

Elizabeth Crane, Chief People Officer from One Digital, in an episode of the HR Works Podcast, said “People don't leave companies- they leave managers.”

From your employees’ perspectives, would you be the reason they love where they work? Does that matter to you?

Here are some ideas to improve your workplace culture: 

  • Lighten up the break room- incorporate office contests and fun posters (but know posters alone won’t better your culture!) 
  • Increase your employee check-ins. Take weekly or biweekly pulses of how each employee is doing.  
  • Have “Easy Fridays”- if your apparel is more professional, allow for workers to wear jeans and an appropriate top 

Robots in the Municipal Workplace?

Perhaps this seems too soon to some, but RPAs or Robotic Process Automation could be a reason to keep employees. It will make your employee’s job more efficient. Rather than doing paperwork the entire day, you can move your administrator through forms more quickly, freeing them up for projects or teamwork. Check out another proposal for RPA’s here, used for filling out forms, such as dog licenses, business registrations and contract management. 

It’s no surprise that technology is becoming of greater importance in our municipal workplaces. But how about employees who aren’t as tech-savvy? Incorporating technology trainings and ongoing support will help all workers not only feel supported, but know they are all on the same “playing field.” 

Enabling technology to increase efficiency in your workplace can help your people tackle more important projects and move your department ahead.  

You Hold The Power

Retention can depend on you. You, supervisor/manager/department head, hold the authority to make or break your employee’s day.  

Try asking for reviews. Give performance evaluations on schedule. And intentionally use the data you receive to shape your culture. It could mean a world of difference in your municipality.  

We can all grow and aim to be better not only for ourselves, but also for those around us. Learn to master your superpower and see how the actions you take today can make your employees want to stay for tomorrow. 

Here to help,