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States as Employers-of-Choice

The States as Employers-of-Choice Project was an ongoing collaboration between the Twiga Foundation, Inc. and the Sloan Center on Aging & Work. The Project aimed to shed light on the dynamics of aging in the state public sector workforce and the responses of state agencies, such as with the adoption of flexible work options.

In 2008, the study collected data from 222 state agencies in 27 states. The survey inquired about each agency's assessment of the aging population, awareness of perceptions of older and younger workers in their agencies, and action steps in recruitment, engagement, and retention of workers. From the data collected, an ongoing intervention was developed to:

  • Provide webinars to state agency leaders on salient issues related to the aging workforce.
  • Develop toolkits to help state agency leaders move forward in their approaches to the aging workforce.
  • Provide site visits to human resource professionals within state agencies.

In 2009, the study collected a second wave of data to capture changes due both to the intervention and the shifting economy. A sample of 108 agencies provided data for this second wave, with approximately half of these agencies having also responded to the first wave survey.

The study is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

key research questions

The States as Employers-of-Choice project uses the awareness to action framework as a guide for the project. Questions addressed include:

  • How have state agencies assessed the effects of the aging workforce on their agencies?
  • How do state agencies view workers at early career, mid career, and late career?
  • What policies and practices do state agencies take to recruit, engage, and retain workers across the life course?
  • How do state agencies differ from private sector companies, and in what ways are they alike?

selected findings

  • Top motivators for offering flexible work options noted by the agencies in the States as Employers-of-Choice Survey, along with improving morale (Wave 1: 62.9%), included:
    • To help employees manage work and family life (66.9%).
    • To retain employees (62.4%).
    • To manage today's workforce effectively (62.4%).
    • To increase commitment and job engagement (60.0%).
  • The top four priorities ranked as "important" or "very important" among state agencies were:
    • Increasing productivity through increased efficiency (97.3%).
    • Management of workforce talent (95.3%).
    • Organizational ethics (93.5%).
    • Cost leadership (89.8%).
  • Respondents within state agencies viewed employees of all career stages as having specific strengths.
    • Late-career employees were perceived most positively by state agencies with regard to having low turnover rates, having a strong work ethic, being reliable, and being loyal to the agency in comparison to the early-and mid-career employees.
    • Mid-career employees were considered most likely to want to lead and supervise others, to be productive, to be creative, and to take initiative in comparison to the early- and late-career employees.
    • Early-career employees were perceived the least positively in comparison to the other career stages for all ten of the positive attributes.
  • When looking at the state agencies' perceptions of negative attributes of employees:
    • Late-career employees were perceived to be the most resistant to change, reluctant to travel, reluctant to try new technologies, burned out, and difficult to train.
    • Mid-career employees were perceived to take a lot of time from work to deal with personal or family issues, and early-career employees were perceived to often look outside the agency for new career opportunities.
    • Early-career employees were perceived lowest on all of the positive attributes, however, they were also perceived to be the lowest on four of the negative attributes and highest on only one of the negative attributes.
  • State agencies were asked in both waves to identify human resources challenges. In both waves, providing competitive compensation and benefits was the most mentioned human resource challenge. In wave 1, 75.0% mentioned compensation and benefits, with substantial proportions of the sample also mentioning recruiting competent job applicants (56.4%), knowledge transfer from experienced employees to less-experienced employees (56.1%), effective supervision (49.0%), unwanted turnover (48.2%), and morale (40.2%).

state agency benefits & outcomes

Over the course of the intervention, state agency leaders have played an important role, both in suggesting topics for the webinars and publications and in guiding the development of the wave 2 survey instrument.




If you have any questions about the survey, please feel free to contact:

Tay McNamara, PhD, Co-Director of Research  |  +1. 617. 552. 8971

For questions regarding participation in the project, please feel free to contact:

Bob Davis  |  +1. 208. 850. 9261

To schedule a conversation with any of our researchers or staff, please contact:

617-552-9195 |


states as employers-of-choice team

Elyssa Besen, PhD
Research Scientist
Center for Disability Research, Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety
Melissa Brown, MSW, PhD
Adjunct Faculty
Graduate School of Social Work, Boston College
Vanessa Careiro
Bob Davis
Program Director
Twiga Foundation, Inc.
Patricia Kempthorne
Founder and Executive Director
Twiga Foundation, Inc.
Tay K. McNamara, PhD
Co-Director of Research, Secondary Data Studies
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, PhD
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College


Graduate School of Social Work & Carroll School of Management, Boston College
Michelle Wong, JD, MSW