We like to say Texas is the best state in the union, so it makes sense that state agencies want to hire and keep the best employees. State government is Texas’ largest employer, with more than 137,000 full-time employees (FTEs) in state agencies and another 190,000 FTEs in institutions of higher learning — nearly a third of a million FTEs.
The Comptroller of Public Accounts analyzed the state government workforce and factors affecting state employee retention and turnover to create A Report on the Texas State Employee Workforce (PDF). This analysis, which used FTE data from fiscal 2019-2023, does not include FTEs at institutions of higher education, as they do not have the same wage structure and retirement system as state agencies.
The Comptroller’s office used data from the Centralized Accounting and Payroll/Personnel System (CAPPS), which the agency developed and maintains, along with data from previous human resource/payroll systems in its analysis. The systems’ data for 2019 through 2023 include demographic and payroll information providing unique insight into the state workforce. The state employee workforce report aligns with the findings from the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) Current Employment Statistics Report database showing the trend of private sector job growth outpacing state government employment growth.
This article offers a synopsis of the Comptroller’s report and highlights some of the efforts underway to address the attrition issues in state government.
To maintain their competitiveness in the job market, Texas state agencies must vie with other employers, both private and public, in terms of salary, benefits and work environment. Some key findings in our research:
The workforce report confirms what has been reported and reiterates that turnover in critical needs positions in both social services and criminal justice agencies must be addressed. Specifically, the Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice experienced the greatest losses with more than 9,500 employees combined (Exhibit 1).
|Agency||Fiscal 2019||Fiscal 2023*||Total Change
|HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES COMMISSION||35,173||32,345||-2,828 (-8.0%)|
|TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE||36,960||30,277||-6,683 (-18.1%)|
|TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION||11,741||12,375||634 (5.4%)|
|DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY AND PROTECTIVE SERVICES||12,163||11,984||-179 (-1.5%)|
|TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY||9,612||10,210||598 (6.2%)|
|TEXAS WORKFORCE COMMISSION||4,370||4,366||-4 (-0.1%)|
|OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL||3,922||3,761||-161 (-4.1%)|
|DEPARTMENT OF STATE HEALTH SERVICES||2,950||3,447||497 (16.8%)|
|TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT||2,984||2,951||-33 (-1.1%)|
|TEXAS COMMISSION ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY||2,624||2,569||-55 (-2.1%)|
|TEXAS COMPTROLLER OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS||2,720||2,465||-255 (-9.4%)|
|TOTAL - ALL STATE AGENCIES||144,993||137,114||-7,879 (-5.4%)|
Notes: Fiscal years begin Sept. 1. Departments of Family and Protective Services and State Health Services are administratively attached to the Health and Human Services Commission.
* Effective Sept. 1, 2022 (first day of fiscal 2023)
Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and CAPPS data
This downward trend among all state government agencies’ employment when compared with the growth of the private-sector job market reported in TWC’s report highlights the inequity between the two. According to the Texas State Auditor’s Annual Report on Classified Employee Turnover for Fiscal Year 2022 (PDF), more than a quarter of exit surveys completed by state government employees indicated the top reason for leaving was “better pay/benefits,” the first time since 2008 that compensation was the No. 1 reason listed on completed exit surveys. Slightly more than 44 percent said they either were headed for a private-sector job or looking for other employment.
The state employee workforce report corroborated that average state government positions’ salaries fell short of those for all Texas jobs. As of September 2022, state government positions’ salaries averaged slightly more than $56,000 annually. The average annual salary of comparable occupations among all Texas employees was $64,700. The state government average salary was also slightly less than the $57,700 average wage for all 867 occupations in the Texas labor force (Exhibit 2).
Notes: State government occupation data as of fiscal 2023. Texas employment occupation comparable Standard Occupational Classifications data from July 1 to Sept. 30, 2022.
Sources: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; JobsEQ
The disparity in salaries of state government employees and the comparable Texas employment market also revealed that state government employees largely work in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) with cost-of-living expenses that exceed the state average. This relatively reduced purchasing power affects state government employees’ ability to pay for goods, services and housing. Housing cost is a key factor for many state government employees, as about 30 percent live in the Austin and Dallas MSAs, both of which have a higher cost of living than many other parts of the state. If employees cannot afford housing close to their employing agency, they often are either forced to move farther away (and have longer commutes) or find another job that pays more.
State agencies must not only address salary concerns but also workplace conditions. Of the fiscal 2022 exit survey respondents, 14.2 percent gave “poor working conditions/environment” as a contributing factor in their decision to leave. This covers a variety of items such as heavy workloads, the inability to take time off due to staffing shortages, inadequate training and the lack of resources needed for job performance.
But agencies can implement measures to mitigate these concerns. For example, prior to 2020, the Comptroller’s office leadership met with frontline workers to hear what employees wanted their leaders to do better. This led to changes such as expanded telework, improved training opportunities, better communication and outreach events; the Comptroller’s office was named a top place to work in the Austin American-Stateman’s 2020 survey. Agencies can reduce employee dissatisfaction and turnover by demonstrating that leadership is listening and responding to employees’ ideas and concerns in a proactive manner.
From fiscal 2020 through fiscal 2022, an average of 32,729 employees left state government agencies each fiscal year. These separations included retirements and voluntary (e.g., resignations) and involuntary (e.g., dismissal for cause, reduction of workforce) separations. These total job separations do not equal a net loss for the state, because new employees came into state government employment during this time as well.
Social services and criminal justice agencies had some of the highest rates of job separation from fiscal 2020 through fiscal 2022. These jobs frequently are referred to as “critical needs” positions and experience the highest rate of job separations compared with non-critical needs positions. The Texas Juvenile Justice Department led all Texas agencies in the average rate of total separations, with an annual average of 43 employees per every 100 employees leaving the agency during this period (Exhibit 3).
|Agency||Average Annual Separations, Fiscal 2020-2022||Total Agency Employees, Fiscal 2022||Average Monthly Salary of Total Separations, Fiscal 2022|
|TEXAS JUVENILE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT||855 (43.3%)||1,731||$3,644|
|TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE||10,862 (31.1%)||31,595||$3,351|
|HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES COMMISSION||9,403 (26.8%)||33,175||$3,070|
|DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY AND PROTECTIVE SERVICES||2,961 (24.0%)||12,355||$3,921|
|TEXAS MILITARY DEPARTMENT||109 (20.3%)||574||$4,219|
|TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION||2,322 (19.3%)||12,110||$4,033|
|SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF||105 (19.1%)||527||$3,166|
|SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED||100 (18.7%)||531||$2,713|
Note: Exhibit includes agencies with at least 100 FTEs in fiscal 2022.
Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and CAPPS data
To combat the loss of employees, especially in these “critical needs” agencies, the state must address the reasons listed for their departure. The state must also work to improve its competitiveness with the private sector to attract new employees. Michael Estrada, Talent Acquisition Team supervisor at the Comptroller’s office, estimated 50 to 60 percent of applicants who initially use the Indeed.com “easy apply” option to apply for a position with the Comptroller’s office do not follow through with the state application process. Reducing this type of applicant drop-off by simplifying the state application could in turn increase the potential applicant pool.
Removing barriers of entry into certain critical needs professions, such as streamlining the application process or implementing credential programs, would potentially increase the job pool for those positions. For example, the 88th Legislature this year approved House Bill 584, which creates an information technology credential program for state agencies that can be accessed at a junior college or public technical school instead of a four-year university. The legislation would allow the credential program, which includes a one-year apprenticeship, in combination with an associate degree to be substituted for a four-year degree for certain positions.
As mentioned, the factor that stands out above the rest when it comes to employee retention is salary. With state government employees making less than their private-sector counterparts, salaries must become competitive. Recognizing this need, the Texas Legislature this year approved two 5-percent salary adjustments for current state government employees. The first raise will take effect July 1 (ahead of the Sept. 1 start of fiscal 2024), with a minimum increase of $250 per month. The second raise will occur in fiscal 2025.
The 88th Legislature also recognized the need to offer incentives when it passed Senate Bill 222 in the Regular Session that offers paid parental leave for state agency employees for the birth or adoption of a child. In addition, the Legislature allocated funds to address unfunded liabilities (PDF) in the Employees Retirement System, providing stability in the pension plan available to employees hired before Sept. 1, 2022, and potentially incentivizing employees to stay with state government. Even if state government’s edge in retirement no longer has the hold it once did, benefits can be important when considered in conjunction with the salary adjustments. With these moves, Texas is working to attract and keep the best people working for state government and the people of Texas. FN
Fiscal Notes reported on high turnover among state employees in 2018 as well. Read about the economy’s effect on jobs and how state agencies were adapting at the time.