March 28, 2023
Enhancing Agent Retention
Some of you already know that the Extension Administration Team is working on an agent retention plan. Since the pandemic, our system has experienced higher agent turnover than in the past. The goal of this plan is to reverse that trend by adopting practices that will nurture an even better working environment and a better work life balance. Recently, questions have surfaced regarding this plan.
Where did the ideas that helped shape this plan come from?
The Extension Administration Team has been collecting information both directly and indirectly from agent exit surveys, my agent advisory team, the State Extension Advisory Council summer meeting of 2022, two Joint Council of Extension Professionals (JCEP) meetings, and other conversations with agents, staff and faculty. This input was then used to develop an initial plan draft. This draft was shared with the State Extension Advisory Council to receive their feedback at our winter meeting in February.
The major themes of the plan include
- Addressing local unit co-governance.
- 4-H, local unit supervision.
- Job competitiveness issues.
All of the recommended practices received support by the State Extension Advisory Council, but two job competitiveness practices, a standardized interpretation of our professional scheduling policy and an agent career ladder did raise some concern. There was definite support for the need for those two aspects of the plan; how to implement them was a concern.
Professional scheduling is interpreted differently from local unit to local unit. Some local units interpret professional scheduling as only being able to take time away from work for personal appointments, such as doctor's visits. Other local units also include the ability of an agent, subject to the approval of their supervisor and extension office staffing, to come into work a little later or leave work a little early whenever they have had a long week with night or weekend meetings.
Once again, the State Extension Advisory Council generally supported standardizing to this broader interpretation, but there was no consensus regarding how to implement it in a way to best ensure accountability, programmatic quality and productivity.
Our current system has two options for career advancement for agents: Going into administration or becoming a specialist. There currently is no career ladder to reward extension professionals remaining in their position as an agent and becoming better as an agent. The current plan draft does recommend adopting an agent career ladder. Each agent would be able to determine how many of the five ladder rungs they wish to achieve.
There seemed to be consensus that an agent career ladder would be good to implement. There was concern expressed, however, regarding how to financially incentivize the agent career ladder.
A member of each Extension Board will be meeting with Extension Administration Team members at our April 11 partnership meeting to discuss how to best implement a uniform interpretation of our professional staffing policy and how to best incentivize an agent career ladder. The meeting will be conducted using a hybrid format.
Board members will meet face-to-face with an Extension Administration Team member/facilitator at one of five locations in Garden City, Hays, Hutchinson, Topeka, or Fredonia. Other members of the Extension Administration Team will join via Zoom. Participating Extension Board members will be provided with support materials beforehand to prepare for the meeting.
Once we have an agreement on how to best implement these two components of the plan, the Extension Administration Team will then take the plan to the Joint Council of Extension Professionals in late spring and early summer. We hope to receive guidance from them regarding the overall agent retention plan, especially the agent career ladder advancement criteria. Once we have received their input and adjusted the plan accordingly, we will the distribute it system-wide for additional feedback.
The final step in the adoption of the agent retention plan will be to submit it to the State Extension Advisory Council at the August State Extension Advisory Council meeting, where we will ask for their support of the plan. We will then start implementing the plan.
Increasing agent retention means enhancing our workplace environment and offering more advancement opportunities for agents. I believe the plan in its current form will do that, and, upon acting on input and feedback from our Extension Boards and our JCEP colleagues, the plan will become even better.