Recruitment, Retention and Succession Planning in Local Health Departments

Retaining currently funded positions is even more important to local health department leaders than recruiting new and retaining existing employees, according to a new research by the Center and its research partner, the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health (UIC).

Center Vice President of Research Joshua Franzel and Julie Darnell of UIC presented the research findings in an October 24 webinar. The project, which examined local health district (LHD) recruitment, retention, and succession planning practices, was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Joshua Franzel reported that

  • many local health departments cut staff between 2008 and 2010
  • LHD executives are challenged to reward and promote valued employees due to human resource rules and procedures
  • the lack of opportunities results in retention challenges
  • some LHDs are using promising recruitment and retention practices, including planning ahead for future workforce needs; relying on data for planning and decision making; advocating for public service and public health; focusing on knowledge and expertise retention; and supporting robust professional development and leadership training programs.

Aaron Kissler of the Florida Department of Health, Gadsden County, pointed out challenges they face, including

  • salaries and benefits that can’t compete with those in the private sector
  • high retirement rates
  • uncertainties about funding from the state or outside grants

Kissler highlighted Gadsden County’s individual development plans as an effective staff development and retention tool. He shared examples of how they use employees from neighboring counties to cover gaps in staffing both to make the most of their resources and to contribute to staff development and training.

Julie Darnell presented research findings about succession planning. She reported that:

  • LHDs are filling senior positions approximately once every 1.3 years
  • the majority of LHDs are very concerned about finding well-qualified individuals to fill open positions
  • the vast majority of LHDs practice informal succession planning, rather than formal succession planning
  • the chief executives are responsible for driving succession planning and creating a workplace culture that values behavioral competencies
  • key tools to help foster staff and leadership development include stretch projects, cross-training/orientation, coaching, and structured leadership curricula

Barney Turnock, also of the UIC, discussed the need to look at the public health workforce in the context of the broader issues affecting the public sector workforce generally.

  • The decline in the size of the public health workforce is similar to reductions in the general public sector workforce.
  • While public health departments have increased in productivity in recent years, so, too, have the demands on them as a result of rising needs for community health and emergency preparedness and response.

View the full webinar.