High Turnover Rate at Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice is Typical of State Bureaucracries

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With new Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner Gale Buckner settling into her post, attention has turned back to the tenure of her predecessor. Former Commissioner Amy Howell was appointed to the DJJ’s top job by Gov. Nathan Deal in January and moved to her new post at the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities at Deal’s request on Nov. 7.

At first glance it appears the DJJ lost a large number of employees in the last 10 months while Howell was commissioner. Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 7, DJJ terminated 618 employees, meaning they were fired, quit or retired. Compare that to the agency’s total number of employees — more than 4,000, according to the DJJ website — and you find DJJ had a turnover rate of a little more than 15 percent.

Employee turnover rates vary widely from one industry to another and can be affected by many factors including employee compensation and job morale, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Statistics compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the food service industry, for example, had a turnover rate of more than 54 percent in 2010. State and local government however had the lowest turnover rate at 16 percent for the same year.

In fact, in 2010, DJJ had a turnover rate of 13.6 percent, beating the national average for state government.

Of course, DJJ is just one of many state agencies and the national average is an aggregate of all of the agencies in all of the states. But while DJJ individually outpaced the national average, at least one state government fared better. Virginia reported an 11 percent turnover rate for state government in 2010, besting the national average by 5 percent and decreasing from 14 percent in 2006.

But a low turnover rate isn’t necessarily better, according to a CBO report from 1986 entitled “Employee Turnover in the Federal Government” that says turnover has both positive and negative effects.

The negative consequences are mostly financial; it costs time and money to recruit and train new employees, the report says. But the positive consequences are less obvious. Turnover might include removing an underperforming employee but could also include “providing an opportunity to introduce new ideas and innovative procedures into the workplace.”

Turnover in any workplace, including the DJJ, is often affected by the economy. A Texas State Auditor’s Office (SAO) report measuring turnover within the state government showed that between 2006 and 2007 the turnover rate increased from 15.8 percent to 17.4 percent. The SAO report also noted that the Texas Youth Commission, (the equivalent of the DJJ in Georgia) had a 40 percent turnover rate. The report blamed a strong economy and low unemployment for the upswing in turnover.

On its website the Texas Public Employee Association (TPEA) wrote about the SAO report saying, “TPEA acknowledges the impact of the economy on turnover and believes the significant competitive disparity in state employee salaries compared with other public and private employers is the primary cause of turnover, particularly among younger and less tenured employees.”


Photo credit: OA Development

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