Onboarding Public Sector Employees Unfamiliar with the Public Sector

by Lorrie Ray

Bulletin,  Public Employers

Study after study shows how vital onboarding new employees is, and how it can lead to either job satisfaction or an exit from the organization. In the public sector, it is important to onboard employees so they understand the organization and the work they will be doing. It is also essential for employees to understand how the purpose of the organization drives differences from the private sector in both the structure and tone of the work.

There are several differences, and employees who are confused about this may become quickly frustrated. Here is a list of items that might help explain the differences:

1. Legal protections employees had in the private sector are different. Employees in the public sector have constitutional protections, such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, the right not to incriminate oneself, and protection against search and seizure. At the same time, they are not covered by the Federal OSHA law, the WARN Act, and the National Labor Relations Act. In other cases, the coverages may have different regulations, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act. Finally, many state laws specifically exempt public sector employers from the requirements, and other laws may require specific notice to employees about particular practices.

Your handbook is the best place to describe what rules govern your workplace. Highlighting the differences that may be new to the employee, especially one coming from the private sector, could prove helpful.

2. While unions are not as prevalent as they once were, unions are still more common in the public sector than private. Employees unfamiliar with this workplace reality may have no understanding of what it means to work there.

Employers who explain very clearly and factually the differences to employees from the private sector will be able to provide a framework to employees from a management perspective. This explanation is helpful when employees inevitably learn about unions from the perspective of the union members.

3. The decision process focuses on the community served. Elected officials beholden to community voters creates a very different dynamic than executives beholden to a board or a bottom line. Because this is the case, two ways of doing business might be unfamiliar to employees new to the public sector: 1) economizing whenever possible by using low-cost vendors; and, 2) acting with transparency that is not always typical in the private sector. Employees from the private sector may be unfamiliar with the fact that they cannot merely purchase items that they need through Amazon as an example.

Explain that having a healthy business mindset where return on investment is always in line with revenue targets is not always relevant in the public sector, where community needs can drive elected officials’ behavior. Helping employees understand these important realities can help them avoid making mistakes that would not have been regarded as gaffes in the private sector.

Employers Council has been helping public sector members for many years. We understand the challenges you face in employment, and we are very familiar with the differences between the public and private sectors. If you have challenges in this area, call us – we can help.

About the author
Lorrie Ray

Lorrie's experience in the variety of problems typically facing employers includes resolution of civil rights cases before state and federal administrative agencies, federal wage and hour disputes and state law claims, employment discrimination, wrongful discharge and health and safety laws. She is also a frequent lecturer on employment law matters. Previous to working at Employers Council, Lorrie worked at the U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Solicitor for a little over three years, prosecuting wage and hour cases for the Department.