The Paradox of Stability: Unpacking the Employee Experience in Government Contracting

In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing job market, government contracting has become an attractive option for many professionals seeking some sense of stability and full-time employment. However, despite the allure of a steady paycheck, it is crucial to address the unique challenges faced by employees in this industry. One of the most notable concerns is the government contract jobs, which can create a sense of uncertainty and leave employees feeling disconnected.  Mass layoffs are inevitable if the company cannot maintain the work or cannot find jobs for employees internally. 

Let’s delve into the implications of government contracting and explore ways to foster a more inclusive and supportive culture for employees.

The Contracting Nature of Government Work

Government contracting often presents employees with a paradoxical situation – they may be working full-time, but the nature of their employment can still feel like that of a contractor. This can lead to a sense of instability, as contracts may be subject to sudden changes or even cancellations. Individuals in this industry must remain adaptable and resilient, constantly helping employees develop skills for a long-term career in government contracting to stay relevant in an ever-evolving landscape.

I have lived in fear of uncertainties a few times during my multiple government tenures in this space and I have worked with my team members who experience anxiety of losing their jobs as well. If the contract is in trouble, the contracting officer is not happy with your performance, or the relationship of executives is not good anymore, during a government shutdown, or if the government is cutting budget etc. just a few of the reasons for uncertainty of the contract. That affects an individual financially and emotionally, and I have experienced that.

In January 2019, one of the longest government shutdowns happened and I did not get paid for 35 days, even though I was a full-time employee of the company. If a company does not get paid, they do not pay their employees in this domain.

The Lack of Necessary Culture

While government contracting companies may prioritize delivering quality work, they sometimes fall short in providing a nurturing and inclusive culture for their employees. In these organizations, individuals may feel like mere resources and billable hours, rather than valued team members. This can result in feelings of isolation and a lack of job satisfaction, ultimately affecting productivity and overall employee well-being.

I have worked for many government contracts and though I feel a sense of satisfaction making an impact, with many conventional organizations, I did not get the chance to know anyone in the company beyond my team. Even though the company employed thousands of employees, I did not get a chance to build networks or relationships. When you are treated as billable hours, you are not invited to the company social events.

Fostering a Supportive Culture

To tackle these challenges head-on, government contracting companies need to prioritize creating a positive work environment and job stability. This includes cultivating a strong sense of community, promoting open communication channels, and recognizing and appreciating employees’ contributions. Additionally, implementing professional development programs and mentorship initiatives can help employees feel supported and valued, fostering a culture of growth and engagement.

I am seeing that some innovative companies focusing on making a social impact, are doing a good job with culture but layoffs are still inevitable as you are overhead as soon as you are out of the contract and many government contracting companies operate on relatively thin profit margins to have a luxury to keep you on the bench till you find your next contract in a few months. 

Embracing Flexibility and Innovation

Companies can further enhance employee experience by embracing flexibility and innovation by creating a positive work environment for government employees. Encouraging flexible schedules, and remote work options for government contractors. Attracting and retaining top talent in the government contracting industry by employee recognition and appreciation. Fostering innovation in government contracting companies by providing access to cutting-edge technology can help find work-life balance as a government contractor and empower employees to excel in their roles. Building a supportive culture in government contracting companies that values creativity, collaboration, and adaptability can make a significant difference in attracting and retaining top talent.

Some government agencies are still having double standards for contractors. Even though contractors are doing as meaningful, if not more, work as government employees, the government enforces strict standards in the contracts. Contracting companies can have innovative approaches to push back on these practices. I have worked for contracts where if you are running 15 minutes late, you must notify your manager and the government must be notified of that. They want to monitor your laptop to monitor your billable hours. These are outdated practices and take away motivation from a contractor, who then focuses only on billing correctly to stay compliant. This ultimately costs more for both government contracting companies and the government.

While government contracting offers some sense of stability, it is crucial to acknowledge the unique challenges faced by employees in this industry. Navigating uncertainty in a contracting role, building a supportive culture in government contracting companies, and building strategies for overcoming job insecurity in government contracting companies can empower their employees to thrive and contribute to their full potential. The adverse effect can be people are encouraged to change jobs while on contract to save them from layoffs. Together, let’s work towards a future where government contracting is not just about contracts and billable hours, but a place where employees feel valued, connected, and inspired to excel.

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