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Indiana boosts state government employee paychecks to fight turnover

An image of a downtown Indianapolis street with the statehouse at the end of it. Highrise buildings can be seen to either side, along with some light traffic down the partially visible road in the middle.
Lauren Chapman
/
IPB News
The state’s turnover rate peaked in 2021, according to the compensation study, with a net loss of 2,079 employees.

Indiana lost more state government workers than it could hire during the last few years. And it costs the state a lot of money to constantly try to replace them, a recent state compensation study report found.

A new state employee pay plan went into effect this week to better fill positions and retain workers.

All employees are getting a 5 percent cost of living increase at least. But some are seeing salaries shift upwards more significantly on top of that. That includes Stephanie Shubert, an employee at the state’s regional WorkOne center in Lafayette for seven months.

Her salary was “very low” before, Shubert said. She isn’t comfortable sharing specific numbers.

“I didn't want to lose the job for the state of Indiana because it is wonderful, and you're helping people and that's the career that I really sought to do,” she said. “But then I was having to do odds-and-end jobs, picking up different things in order to live off that salary.”

Her new salary makes a “huge” difference. The extra work outside of her regular hours at WorkOne kept her from spending time with her three children, Shubert said.

“So this not only will help with financial things, but it will also help with my work-life balance,” she said.

The new pay plan breaks up almost all state government job titles into 17 salary “grades” with a set minimum and maximum salary.

The changes could be significant for some jobs. For example, government jobs database OpenPay shows several Indiana state government workers with the “Community Employment Associate 5” job title got yearly salaries between $23,000 and $27,000. Listed top earners for the job title made around $46,000.

Under the new grades, the “Community Employment Associate 5” position has a salary range between $37,648 and $52,728.

The lowest grade, which includes food service and housekeeping workers, has a minimum of $26,312. The highest grade, which includes Business Unit Directors and General Counsels, now has a minimum of $120,016. The state also has new, separate grades for government health care and information technology workers as well as nurses.

Workers will be moved based on their place in previous ranges. For example, if someone was at the high end of their position’s old salary range, they would be moved up to the high end of the new salary range.

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Though, some may not get an increase beyond the general 5 percent cost of living raise because their salary may have already been within the new ranges. The state did not respond to a request for the number or percent of current employees that fall into each range. It also did not provide the number or percentage that are getting increases as a result of the new grades.

The state’s turnover rate peaked in 2021, according to the compensation study, with a net loss of 2,079 employees. In 2022, 24 percent of the state’s positions went vacant. In 2019, the vacancy rate was only 14 percent.

The process of finding and onboarding a new employee can cost between 50 and 60 percent of their position’s annual salary alone, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

“Further, costs increase even more if the state struggles to find qualified applicants as it belabors the hiring process,” the compensation study’s authors wrote, noting the state got almost half as many applicants per open position in 2022 as it did in 2019. “In short, the increased rate of turnover has had a negative financial impact on the state of Indiana.”

The report notes these issues have been affecting many other state and local governments as well. Shubert did lightly consider finding employment elsewhere for a while, she said.

“It was a daily thing to check my phone or my computer for Indeed or the job board sites,” Shubert said. After the new pay plan was announced, she “was finally able to delete those off my computer and finally able to let that go.”

The Indiana State Personnel Department, which was responsible for creating the compensation study and new pay plan with help from the State Budget Agency, declined a request for an interview. But in an emailed statement, a department spokesperson said the state “has already experienced an increase of applications and a decreased employee churn” since the pay plan was announced last month.

Shubert’s primary role at the WorkOne center is to help the region’s employers find and test the skills of potential employees. She was doing similar work privately for the last decade.

"I've always enjoyed helping people start new jobs, new careers,’ Shubert said. “And I think I decided to do it for the state of Indiana because with unemployment, I want to truly help people."

The turnover in Shubert’s office did occasionally require her to step away from her regular duties to help onboard new employees, she said.

“I think [the new pay plan will] make the state of Indiana jobs more sought out and harder to get and people will really hold on to those jobs," Shubert said. "I do know of one or two people that ... had been offered jobs, they didn't take them and now they are very interested in those jobs."

The state has more than 700 job openings on its website, many alerting candidates to new salaries and benefits packages in bold, blue font.

"I think it will hugely impact the community because we are no longer focused on other jobs or you know, just surviving,” Shubert said. “Now we can focus on what we can do more for the community than what we were already doing. And there'll be more people in empty spots to help them as well."

Contact reporter Adam at arayes@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @arayesIPB.

Adam is Indiana Public Broadcasting's labor and employment reporter. He was born and raised in southeast Michigan, where he got his first job as a sandwich artist at Subway in high school. After graduating from Western Michigan University in 2019, he joined Michigan Radio's Stateside show as a production assistant. He then became the rural and small communities reporter at KUNC in Northern Colorado.