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.

Yearly employee turnover at the state of Wyoming has been on an upward trend for the last decade. In 2011, it was at a 10-year-low of 12.6%. It has nearly doubled since then to a rate of 24.8%. (Screenshot/Dept. of Administration and Information)

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.

Maggie Mullen

Maggie Mullen reports on state government and politics. Before joining WyoFile in 2022, she spent five years at Wyoming Public Radio.

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  1. Try moving to a blue state to make the big bucks. They are cesspools… you can make a living but your expenses will be much higher. You will get burglarized. You will be bullied.
    Is that what you want? If you bring those policies here the crime will skyrocket. We do need a solid income but nothing near blue state numbers.

    1. Cost of living in CA is just about what it is here. Decent houses may be a little cheaper here, but the rest of it is about the same. Myths can be comforting…but they still are myths.

        1. I spent 57 years there.
          Do you folks EVER look into things before you rattle off nonsense?
          A million dollars for 3 bedrooms on a dinky lot. Gas at $7 a gallon.
          Same????? In Bidenland maybe?

  2. Good luck with this one. Collective bargaining will cause massive problems. You’ll have a protected class that tells the people what to do. Democrats love it. It’s called fascism.
    No amount of lies alters the reality that public employees, once free from the rigors of transparency, become tyrants. Schools stop teaching. Roads go unrepaired. Raises are great for the bosses. The new hires get jack. I worked union. Our rep took a bribe and we were forced to let jobs go to Mexico. Do not trust any of these people.

    1. Worked for me. Our salaries at Fish and Game were increased to be at par with that of similar professionals in other fields and departments back in the 90s.

      1. I worked union too. It has it’s pluses, but corruption is today’s elephant in the room. When the Feds and the union bosses are all crooks…. It falls apart. Today is falling apart.

        1. I don’t buy what you’re peddling. Look around you at all the formerly nonunion businesses with workers that are organizing into unions. If we don’t fry ourselves with our own stupidity over the Ukrainian idiocy (that we caused with our insistence that NATO haze the bear with missiles and troops on the Russian border), I believe we will see a resurgence in unionization, repeal of Taft-Hartley, and a major setback for the robber barons and their idiot economist cheerleaders.

  3. Of course money is part of the problem, but so is the growing radicalization of Wyoming politics, the Republican Party and the Know Nothings appointed to run state agencies. And Gov. Gordon has lost the backbone to resist the craziness.

  4. Wyoming pays public employees bottom dollar, and has done so forever. Back in the 90s we Fish and Gamers (our pay wasn’t great compared to other departments at the time) couldn’t believe the paltry salaries you greedy rethuglicans were paying equivalent positions. That’s what happens when fascist kaputalists call the shots. Ever wonder why your smart kids leave and mostly never come back? It’s ’cause they heard things are better elsewhere (away from dummies like Gordon and the rest of the rethug gang), and, once they got a taste of the real world, away from the dumb conservative-settler mentality, they liked it!

  5. All businesses and governments agencies are struggling with staffing issues – not just the State of Wyoming.

    “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.”

    Many employers we work with provide market based compensation, benefits, flexible schedules and so on – and most critically a voice at the table. It is an employee market right now with plenty of opportunity. This broad brush comment that we do not give employees a voice at the table is wrong and flat out disrespectful for those employers that do go the extra mile. Just like Unions, you have good and bad management, but I think the good employers far outweigh the poor employers. It is broad brush comments like this that have caused Unions to lose favor and participation in Unions decline.

    You might consider the impact on the economy from the perspective of business owners, large and small, that have employees that do not even bother to show up. As a good example, we did interviews on campus at UW a while back and half the scheduled interviewees did not bother to show up to their pre-scheduled interview. It’s tough to get a voice at the table when potential employees cannot even show up for an interview.

    1. this happens when you have a state that is treated as a colony by multinational corporations intent on taking out everything.

    2. If you can’t or don’t provide a living wage or reasonable benefits, you don’t deserve employees. Blaming the “young” generation is a cop out.

      You too are using the same broad brush that you are complaining about. People know what their time is worth and want to be compensated fairly. If you keep getting no-shows to your scheduled interviews, you might want to reassess your hiring package.

  6. How many of those employees retired? There’s no indication in the article if “turnover” includes retiring boomers.

  7. As a state employee for over 30 years I totally understand people leaving. Before this summers pay increase, any other increase over the last 10-11 years was just enough to cover increases in insurance and cost of benefits the state quit providing and shifted to the employees. Also before this increase my take home pay was less than it was in 2013. I also used to be at about 70% of my pay band, now I’m below 40% of it. They are raising the pay bands, but unless you fall below the bottom of the band (which are mostly new employees hired at entry level), long term employees got nothing…we all just get close to the bottom of our pay bands. Yes there are other benefits of working for the state that are still good, but when I’m taking home less than I was 9-10 years ago – while the cost of living (and now inflation) continue to go up – why would anyone stay?
    And on top of that your have members of the legislature bashing state employees and how they should be lucky just to have a job! Oh, and lets not forget that Governor Gordon joined other Republican Governors signing a letter to President Biden protesting the student loan forgiveness plan because it benefits just the “rich and elite”. I’d like to ask the Governor at what point state employees became “rich” because I missed that. Together my husband (a teacher) and I make less than the cutoff for a single person to qualify and so two of my kids will benefit from the plan as will MANY state employees.

  8. If nothing else the State might consider hiring “leadership”, at all levels, that know what they are doing.

  9. Abysmal pay combined with 90% of your job being dictated by qanon nuts who think science is a conspiracy made up by the devil=better opportunities elsewhere.

    Not a hard equation.

  10. 8% pay raise with inflation caused by the DC spending policy’s basically amounted to stagnant pay. No gain. Cut back on the entitlement policy’s and pay the people. The money is there. These legislators all seem to have the answers while campaigning. Odd how they spend all that money to gain a minimum wage office.