The recruiting challenge faced by government agencies is a tremendous one.  A March study by the National Association of State Chief Administrators found that government job posting rose 11% from 2013 to 2017, while the number of people applying for state jobs declined by 25%.  There are plenty of reasons; it is difficult to attract young workers into government jobs, government salaries are lower than private sector salaries, and the private sector isn’t having an easy time hiring either

Shortages in government HR departments are also leading to longer hiring timelines, which is creating a vicious cycle. Job seekers are accepting offers from the private sector before government agencies even have a chance to interview them, much less consider them for hiring.

This creates many obvious challenges, which keeps an understaffed HR department very busy.  One of the less obvious challenges that can go unnoticed is the heightened likelihood of misconduct.

When Everybody is Irreplaceable

Nobody is irreplaceable – every day, an agency somewhere loses its best employee, and it continues operating despite the loss.  It’s also important that both management and human resources work together to ensure that nobody is perceived as irreplaceable.  When people seem irreplaceable, they have the power to ignore agency rules and regulations (or even the law in some cases) with impunity.

Unfortunately, if agency jobs go long enough without being filled, managers begin to believe that nobody can be replaced.  This makes everybody irreplaceable – each loss is a role that must be shouldered by the remaining staff.  And as more and more employees leave an already-understaffed agency, each remaining employee is more overworked, less satisfied with their role, and more disengaged from their job.

All these factors make employees more prone to commit misconduct – improper behavior towards co-workers, higher amount of on-the-clock time spent not working, or even theft or fraudulent behavior.  And unfortunately for the agency, that misconduct is less likely to go reported, because managers and co-workers know that if an employee is terminated, their replacement might not show up for a year or more.  Even bad employees start to look irreplaceable in these situations.

This is why a positive culture is most important during the times when agencies are most understaffed.  Employees are happier to shoulder a heavier load when they respect their co-workers.  They’re more likely to be engaged when they’re working with people they respect and with managers they trust to do the right thing for the team.  And if a short-sighted team tries to protect a misbehaving co-worker or subordinate for short term gain, they may soon find themselves regretting that decision – because the good employees will find a new job and leave the bad ones behind.

Is your agency facing staffing shortages?  If so, is the culture a positive one?  Or are employees becoming discouraged with the continuous open roles?  If the mood is sour, then there’s a good chance that the actions of some employees will be as well.

To learn how CMTS:HR can help your agency manage cases of employee misconduct more efficiently, call us at 919-747-3812 or email us at