Roughly a quarter of Wyoming’s executive branch agency employees left their jobs between July 2021 and June 2022, according to a new report by the Department of Administration and Information.
That figure — which is almost double the turnover rate a decade ago — accounts for employees transferring departments as well as those that left state government altogether. Retirements made up about 18% of turnover.
The state’s ongoing retention problem has accelerated, despite Gov. Mark Gordon and lawmakers prioritizing the issue. Per Gordon’s recommendation, lawmakers approved a two-step pay increase during the 2022 budget session. The first half went into effect in July for an average boost of 8%. The second step will partly depend on 2022 market data available in November. But because the state has fallen so far behind on wages — on average, state workers were paid 19.4% below market value before the recent increase — officials say additional, incremental pay boosts will likely be necessary.
“So even though we made a lot of progress with our July increases, we’re still pretty far behind on our market data,” Erin Williams, division administrator for A&I, told the Legislative Management Audit Committee in late September.
By the numbers
An analysis of state data by WyoFile in January found that turnover rates at nearly half of Wyoming’s executive branch agencies at least doubled between 2010 and 2021. Employee survey results at the time indicated that once sought-after public sector jobs had lost their competitive edge and compensation was largely to blame.
The results of a more recent employee survey are expected in November. Additional data, which could take up to a year to collect, is also needed to analyze the relationship between pay, recruitment and retention, Williams said during a Joint Appropriations Committee meeting in September. State employee compensation is that committee’s top priority during the interim.
In the meantime, executive branch agency turnover data for the fiscal year — June 2021 through July 2022 — preceding the pay boost is available, and according to Williams, “very alarming.”
Sixteen agencies had their highest turnover since at least 2011 including: the Department of Environmental Quality (23.1%), Department of Family Services (28.1%), Department of Health (38.8%), the Military Department (36.7%), Department of Revenue and Taxation (28.8%) and the Department of Transportation (23.4%).
Turnover at the District Attorney of Laramie County’s office was unparalleled at 107.9%, meaning that staff departures exceeded the total number of positions. Much of that ongoing shakeup can be attributed to District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove firing most of staff three hours after officially taking office in 2019. She currently faces the possibility of disciplinary charges by the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Thirty-three out of 54 agencies saw their turnover rate increase in the last fiscal year, including the Department of Agriculture (23%), Department of Audit (19.20%), Department of Corrections (20.80%) and the Department of Education (15%).
Separations were especially concentrated among new state employees. About 55% of turnover were those that had worked no more than five years for the state and around 72% were those that had nine or less years under their belts.
Work in progress
Without the recent pay boost, retention would have been an even bigger problem, according to Williams, who said there’s anecdotal evidence that some state workers that planned to leave chose to stay after learning about forthcoming raises.
“Quite a few have stayed and they feel confident that there’s more increases [coming],” Williams told lawmakers.
The second phase of the current pay boost is expected to be completed sometime after November and will use a market merit matrix, which considers both performance and market data. After that step is completed, any additional increase to bring rates closer to current market value will need approval by the Legislature. To bring employees to the 2021 market rate, for example, would cost the state an estimated additional $60.5 million a year, according to Williams.
Gordon is running for reelection in November’s general election against Democratic challenger Theresa Livingston of Worland. State employee compensation would be a top priority should he serve a second and final term, Gordon previously told WyoFile.
“He was clear prior to last year’s session that he planned a multi-phase approach to employee compensation so we can address the needs of the state,” Michael Pearlman, the governor’s spokesperson, said in an email on Monday.
Officials, like Williams, have said the problem isn’t just about pay.
“We know [for] employees staying, it’s not just compensation driven. It’s flexibility and schedules and various other things,” Williams told lawmakers, adding that her department is working on expanding employee assistance programs and improving onboarding, among other things.
“What are we doing to change the culture?” Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson) said during the Joint Appropriations Committee meeting. The lawmaker said he’d be more willing to vote for more money down the road if employee policy changes, such as allowing people to work from home, were part of the equation.
State workers want two things, according to Tammy Johnson, executive director of Wyoming State AFL-CIO, a labor union in Cheyenne.
“They want to be paid fairly. And they want to have a voice at the table with their employers,” Johnson said. “And in our state, we don’t give that to people.”
Collective bargaining, Johnson wrote in an op-ed in January, “would allow public workers to sit down at the table to talk with bosses about everything from pay and benefits to fairness, safety and more, without fear of retaliation.”
As a right-to-work state, employees in Wyoming may not be required to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment. An act of legislation would be necessary to change that.
The Joint Appropriations Committee has not determined when it will next discuss employee compensation.
Update: This story has been edited to include details about retirements and years of service. —Ed.