Lessons Learned from My First Year as a Public Employee

May 10, 2018

The following account was submitted by a PERA member and public employee back in 2012. However, we post it again in 2018 as part of Public Service Recognition Week because the sentiments expressed are as relevant now as they were then. 

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On October 3, 2011, I began my first day as a public employee.

When I originally applied, I didn’t really expect public sector employment to differ too much from my experience in the private sector. I had worked at major corporations, medium-sized companies, and even a tiny start-up with just three full-time employees. Surely, I had experienced it all; no new experience could be too jarring.

So, what is it I've learned now one year later? 

Well, by the end of my first day, I knew not only how to sign my name on about a hundred personnel forms without getting a hand cramp, but that my organization is filled with exceptionally intelligent and motivated people. It's evident that they're dedicated to public service and continuously striving for excellence. My fellow employees are passionate about the work they do, and I feel honored to be chosen to work among them.

It was also a refreshing revelation to find myself working in an environment where the emphasis is on providing service to the people of Colorado rather than impacting XYZ company's bottom line. Looking back at my private sector experience, it's astonishing how often that perspective got in the way of doing great work. Creativity and, oddly enough, efficiency were stifled by upper management’s seemingly singular focus on sales numbers and profits. It didn’t matter whether I provided exceptional service to the customer; at the end of the day, all that mattered was whether the work I did positively affected the company's revenue.

The singular focus of my work in the public sector, on the other hand, is all about how to provide the best service to the Coloradans I serve.

The work isn't without its challenges, though. In fact, one aspect of my day-to-day that has taken some getting used to is the unspoken requirement to do a lot with very little. Public sector budgets have been on a steady decrease for years, but the demand for our services hasn't waned one bit. As a result, I've had to learn very quickly that both innovation and the efficient use of resources are paramount in the public sector. My fellow public employees and I provide vital services to the state, so it's important that we maintain a high level of service no matter the constraints we may be working under at one point or another.

Despite the limitations I might face at times, I wouldn't change a thing about the work I do. For the first time in my career, I can say confidently that my work makes a difference (cue the rainbows and puppy dogs). I know without a doubt that I'm making a positive impact on my community and on Colorado, and I'm proud to be a public employee.