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Workforce Reshaping

Implementing Reshaping Options

How to Select and Use Workforce Reshaping Options to Maintain an Effective and Efficient Workforce

Workforce Reshaping Process

When agencies’ mission and resource priorities change, agencies may need to consider strategic workforce reshaping options to effectively and efficiently align the agency’s workforce with current or anticipated requirements.  Reshaping efforts are often required in response to a budgetary shortfall, the privatization of work, changes in program priorities, or the transfer of an agency function to another organization. Like workforce planning, this workforce reshaping process will involve steps to identify the situation and goals, select the best option, create a reshaping plan, implement and monitor the changes, and adjust the plan, as needed. Agencies should also consider appropriate strategies for employee and union engagement, consistent with applicable law and lawful provisions of collective bargaining agreements, to promote the efficient implementation of workforce changes.

1.  Reevaluate Positions and Organizational Design

In developing its reshaping plan, the agency should use workforce planning and analysis to identify key personnel-related issues that affect the agency’s present and future ability to perform its missions, including:

  • Surplus positions due to the reorganized, reduced, or redirected mission
  • Positions still needed to perform the agency’s work
  • Available mechanisms that may help an agency to avoid a reduction in force (at the agency’s option) if the reshaping plan results in surplus positions
  • Whether the human resources organization requires additional resources to implement the planned organizational change (e.g., whether agency personnel records and human resources staff are ready to support reshaping actions; or if not ready, how many full time equivalents are needed for what period of time)

Initially, the agency should review and reevaluate how the workforce supports the agency’s mission.  To do this, the leaders should develop, review, analyze and prioritize mission requirements or what the workforce needs to do to fulfill its mission.  In this review process, consider:

  • Current and emerging mission requirements (including technology changes)
  • Positions (by series, grade and location) that are required to perform the current and emerging mission
  • Knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for current and future positions
  • Current and projected education levels, training, and/or cross-training required for current and future positions that will perform the mission
  • Positions (by series, grade, and location) that do not support the reshaped, reorganized, reduced, or unfunded mission
  • Current and projected attrition and turnover rates (including retirement eligibility over at least the next one to five years)
  • Current and projected accession rates

This information will help to shape the mixture of positions and structure of the organization that will support the new priorities. 

2.  Evaluate Options and Select Approach

The difference between the current and required workforces will inform the scope, timing and nature of the reshaping effort required.  Using these requirements as a guide, the agency should review and select from the available options, which are described below, to move towards the necessary changes.  Then, they will create a plan to implement these changes.  It is important to note that the workforce reshaping process and, in particular, the implementation of a Reduction-In-Force (RIF) is a resource-intensive process that may require considerable planning time and personnel support.  

In planning for reshaping actions, management should consider:

  • Scope:  What is the size (e.g., by agency component, geographic location, number and types of positions, etc.) of the effort? Is it driven by budget, program shifts, skill imbalances, or mandatory legislative or agency employment reductions? The size, type, and the time available affect the decision about which tools are best for the situation.
  • Timing: An agency should start as soon as possible by identifying where cuts must be made and concentrating tools and strategies there.
  • Targeting:  Targeted cuts are more effective than across-the-board cuts, which can leave the agency without the staff to perform critical functions. An agency should identify which functions to end, consolidate, and keep and subsequently identify and target the affected positions.
  • Flexibility:  There are multiple strategies available for downsizing or reshaping. An agency should be flexible. Strategies should be compatible with the agency's mission and goals.

3.  Implement Options

Next, agencies should develop and implement an action plan for the reshaping options chosen. 

Throughout the workforce reshaping process, communication should be coordinated to provide timely, accurate, and complete information to all impacted parties (including first line managers, employees and union officials) on issues relating to the organizational changes and RIF. Effective, open communication will help employees to focus on their work and the steps they can take to prepare for a transition. (See the reshaping handbook for a fuller discussion of this point.)

4.  Monitor and Evaluate Impact

Throughout the reshaping process, the agency should monitor and evaluate the impact of the changes using the same human capital measures that were used to create the plan.   

5.  Revise Plan (and Repeat Steps 2 to 4 as Needed)

Revise the plan, as needed, by revisiting the earlier steps to consider additional strategies as the workforce responds to change. 

Workforce Reshaping Options

When workforce analysis identifies the need for workforce reshaping, agency leaders may consider a variety of approaches to move towards the changes that are required.  Often, agencies will need to select and implement additional mitigation strategies, offered in order of the least to greatest adverse impact on employees, or they may offer successive rounds of the same strategy that are increasingly targeted to the workforce that is likely to be impacted by a potential RIF.   The Workforce Reshaping Operations Handbook and Appendices as well as the other resources linked below describe these options and the considerations that should be made when an agency creates a workforce reshaping strategy. 

Temporary Controls:

Administrative Furloughs:  An administrative furlough is a planned event by an agency which is designed to absorb reductions necessitated by downsizing, reduced funding, lack of work, or any budget situation other than a lapse in appropriations.   For additional guidance on the use of administrative furloughs, please consult the following guidance:

Reimbursable Details to Other Organizations:  A reimbursable detail to a different agency allows management to retain its skilled workforce even though the employees may temporarily be surplus. This option works well when another agency has a temporary need for the specific skills of the surplus employees. An interagency reimbursable detail may not be a viable option if the employee’s present agency is faced with budgetary constraints, an immediate downsizing (such as a closure), or finds that the employee’s position will likely continue to be surplus in the future. (See the reshaping handbook for a fuller discussion of this point.)

Freeze Hiring and Promotion Actions:  If the agency finds that its reshaping plan will result in surplus of displaced employees, the agency may freeze specific personnel actions to best fit its individual situation rather than automatically adopting a blanket freeze on all personnel actions. In a mid- or long-term implementation of its reshaping plan, the agency may adopt a freeze on a ratio or a percentage basis, such as filling one position for every two vacated positions.

In general, a freeze on internal promotions (if the agency adopts that option) requires more attention from the human resources office than a blanket freeze on external or even internal hires. For example, the agency will need to determine whether to freeze: all promotions, only promotions for certain positions, only promotions at certain grade levels, or some combination of these; all career ladder promotions; and discretionary, accretion promotions associated with assignment of duties consistent with a higher grade level.

Voluntary and Non-Reductive Options:

Reassignments:  Assuming the individuals are qualified for the new positions, agencies may reassign employees to vacant positions at the same grade or rate of pay as employees’ present positions to meet organizational needs. Agencies may also use reassignments as a part of reorganization efforts when a reduction of staff is not required.

Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA)  allows employees to retire voluntarily if they meet the early retirement requirements extending the age and service requirement for retirees.  VERA opportunities may be offered with or without Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIPs). Agencies may identify the maximum number of VSIPs that will be offered. VSIPs are generally capped at $25,000. Voluntary resignations may also be accepted in exchange for a VSIP. OPM approval is required to offer early retirement pursuant to VERA and/or VSIPs.

Phased Retirement:  Agencies may implement phased retirement plans that permit employees to reduce their work schedule while receiving a partial retirement benefit and spending time training future leaders. 

Voluntary Reduction in Work Hours:  Agencies may consider a policy that allows employees to voluntarily reduce their scheduled work hours for a period of time (e.g., take one day a week or one day a pay period in a voluntary nonpay status), or even to convert from a permanent full-time to a permanent part-time work schedule.  Agencies should explain to employees the impact a change in work schedule may have on benefits as well as leave accrual. Employees under different work schedules are grouped into separate competitive levels in RIF procedures.

Permanent Change:

Reductions in Force (RIF): When an agency abolishes positions, the RIF regulations determine whether an employee keeps his or her present position and whether the employee has a right to a different position. An agency is required to use the RIF procedures when an employee is faced with separation or downgrading for a reason such as reorganization, lack of work, shortage of funds, insufficient personnel ceiling, or the exercise of certain reemployment or restoration rights. OPM approval is not required to implement a RIF.

Prior to a RIF, agencies may set up an Intra-Agency Selection Priority Program which can place employees who are likely to be impacted by the RIF into other vacant positions within the agency.

Transfer of Function:  In a transfer of function, the function must: cease in the losing competitive area(s) at the time of transfer; and be performed in an identifiable form in a different competitive area (or areas) where the function was not being performed at the time of transfer. Under certain conditions, non-temporary employees have the right to move with their work to another organization if the alternative is separation or downgrading by a RIF.

Recruitment, Hiring and Retention During Reshaping

Hiring often continues during workforce reshaping efforts.  Some agencies will need to hire for Mission-Critical Occupations which are essential to carrying out the functions that are central to their missions. Other agencies may have new strategic goals or may have identified the need for new positions or additional staff as the result of workforce planning.

Even for organizations that are not directly impacted by workforce reshaping, recruitment and retention can be negatively impacted during these times.  It is important to be honest with applicants and employees about the circumstances and the reason for hiring. 

Agencies have discretionary authority to provide additional compensation and leave benefits to support their employee recruitment, relocation, and retention efforts. For example, when an agency has a special need for an employee’s services that makes it essential to retain the employee in his or her current position during a period of time before the closure or relocation of the employee's office, facility, activity, or organization, it is possible to pay a retention incentive if the employee is likely to leave for a different Federal position or to leave the Federal service.  (Note that there are restrictions on the payment of VSIPs to employees who performed service for which a retention incentive was paid during the 12-month period preceding the date of separation.)

Learn more through the following online resources:

Engaging Unions

When implementing reshaping options, agencies should meet any lawful collective bargaining obligations. Consultation with agency human resource staff and counsel is advised. Labor relations implications, collective bargaining considerations, notice requirements, and grievance and appeal procedures are also listed throughout the Workforce Reshaping Operations Handbook and Appendices. Agencies will benefit from early engagement with unions on workforce restructuring. It is critical that agencies coordinate efforts to adhere to statutory and appropriate collective bargaining requirements on such topics as providing notice and for bargaining impact and implementation.

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