Planning Magazine

3 Ways to Boost Recruitment and Retention on a Lean Budget

Is staff turnover an issue at your organization? Consider these tips for attracting new employees — and inspiring them to stay.

Article Hero Image

Illustration by boygovideo/iStock/Getty Images Plus

During the 2022 National Planning Conference in San Diego, I hosted an APA Learning Circle to discover what's top of mind for managers in planning departments. These conversations helped inspire "Planning Supervisor's Playbook Part 2," a three-part webinar I'm leading this summer with Aimee Nassif, AICP.

The discussion was unstructured and open to any concern, but the group of a dozen planning supervisors quickly focused on one pressing area: staff turnover. Whether due to retirement or employees leaving for a new position, everyone agreed they are scrambling for solutions, especially at non-profits and within local governments.

While recruitment and retention have always been important areas for managers to focus on, the pandemic has made them all the more challenging, due in part to a competitive job market, shrinking teams, and lean budgets.

As we navigate the Great Resignation and our ever-changing workplace, try these approaches to attracting and retaining staff.

1. Get out of your own way.

Changes necessitated by the height of the pandemic have challenged a variety of long-held notions about how our work is accomplished. During the Learning Circle, nearly everyone mentioned a rule on the books that now looks unnecessarily rigid.

Vacation policies are one example; participants said the "use it or lose it" philosophy is now outmoded. And bureaucratic hiring processes can make filling vacancies difficult and drawn out, potentially resulting in losing out on good candidates.

As private-sector options continue to offer more lucrative and flexible opportunities, consider revising long-held policies and procedures to better compete.

2. Expand the benefits package.

A competitive salary is often the best way to recruit new talent, but most local governments are facing limited budgets. In these instances, creative benefit packages can be a draw.

Take housing. Learning Circle participants pointed to housing affordability as a recruitment issue, particularly in major cities, so providing assistance or helping with a security deposit or mortgage down payment can entice new hires. Some municipalities in tourist destinations even own multifamily housing they can rent to employees at below market rates

Remote work is another solution — and an attractive benefit for a variety of reasons. The group discussed methods to provide flexibility in workday schedules, along with the pros and cons of allowing employees to work from home or adopt a hybrid schedule. While the idea of planners working remotely in communities they don't live in was controversial, participants agreed that attrition will continue to increase without some opportunity to work outside the office.

3. Make way for robots.

City government needs to evolve, the Learning Circle agreed. To this point, the group explored the idea of using artificial intelligence to support staff. A planning office could feasibly program an AI with zoning and development code knowledge to answer questions from applicants and the public, much like a chat box many retail companies already use. While this could eventually reduce the need for some positions, it could also provide some much-needed relief for overworked staff.

"Eighty-five million jobs may be displaced by the shift in labor between humans and machines by 2025, while 97 million new roles may emerge," according to the Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum Report. Don't get caught off guard — now is the time to prepare for another workplace disruptor.

Matt Brandmeyer, AICP, is a planning and economic development professional.