Whether you are a boss or that boss’s employee, these are challenging times to be a government employee. As a boss, you have the added pressure of dealing with your own on-the-job issues including managing and motivating your employees.
The most recent “Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey” (FEVS) conducted in 2018 revealed a significant drop in federal employee engagement and overall satisfaction. The survey is conducted by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service and global management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group.
As a manager, supervisor, or leader in government you may have limits as to what you can do to change the work environment. But, listening and engaging employees is within your control — even if that means explaining what are the limits faced by you and your staff.
“When you look at issues of engagement, some of the issues may be very intractable, and they may not be within an individual leader’s power to address them,” said Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget and acting Office of Personnel Management director.
The upside of listening to your employees is that you are more likely to build better working relationships and achieve better performance from them. The downside of not listening is unhappy employees may decide to seek disciplinary or legal action against you for ignoring their concerns.
Very few people know the problems of the federal government as well as the people who actually do the work…
They can tell us where the problems are, where the waste is, and what really needs to be done to get more work done with fewer resources. There are a few questions in the FEVS that tell us where we could focus efforts to improve how we listen to federal workers,” said Jeff Neal, Senior Vice President of ICF International, and former Chief Human Capital Officer of the Homeland Security Department.
Here are eight tips to help you and your staff be more effective listeners
1. Reading the most recent “Federal Employee Viewpoint Study” can give you insight into your department and others. Some departments were ranked high for engagement, and some were not. In either case, it’s helpful to learn about how employees see their working environment good or bad.
“We firmly believe that understanding the perspective of employees and proactively addressing their concerns will result in greater workforce engagement, better performance, and more satisfied customers,” says Max Stier, president and CEO, Partnership for Public Service.
If the results are a complete surprise to you, that is a sign you may need to be a better listener.
2. Convey the importance of listening to your managers and team leaders. Encourage them to ask employees questions, so they can address issues that may evolve into more serious problems and help keep you in touch with your staff.
3. Demonstrate to employees you take their feedback seriously. Even if you can’t make a change an employee might request, explaining why that is and possibly offering alternatives demonstrates your good faith.
4. We all multitask, but constantly looking at your cell, taking calls, or not making eye contact during a conversation can all be interpreted negatively by an employee who wants to communicate with you. Pay attention.
5. Try not to judge — even when you don’t like what you are hearing. That doesn’t mean you can’t respond, but losing your temper, making inappropriate comments, or frequently interrupting can work against your getting an employee to understand your point of view or a policy they may not like.
6. Face-to-face interactions are often more effective to address employee concerns than an email or text. First, it shows you are concerned enough to want to talk in person. It also allows you to gauge the employee’s body language and effect, giving you more insight into their concerns.
7. Create opportunities to listen and stay ahead of possible problems. Reviewing work performance or using meetings to gauge employee concerns can allow you to be proactive to address and solve employee issues.
8. Make sure your employees understand your and your agency’s expectations. What are your goals and what role do you expect your employees to play to meet them? If an employee is not helping to meet those goals, give tactful constructive input, and let the employee know how he or she can improve. Conversely, be sure to praise people when they do a good job.
Remember that employee performance reflects on you, so it is to your benefit to help them succeed.
What if you‘re a good listener and you still have a dissatisfied employee?
Despite your efforts to be a good listener, some employees may not be happy with your response. They may see you as discriminating against them, being unfair, or even hostile. If you see a problem developing with an employee, it is important to document your actions to demonstrate you have taken the appropriate steps to address them if your supervisor questions your actions.
But, sometimes even that is not enough. “An accusation of misconduct from an employee can lead to disciplinary action or even a lawsuit despite your best efforts. Even if you are found innocent, the cost to defend yourself can damage you financially as well as hurt your professional reputation,” says Darrell Weber, Vice President of Starr Wright USA, which specializes in providing professional liability insurance coverage for federal employees.
“Many federal employees in a supervisory role have obtained liability insurance as a precautionary measure. Listening to employees and being proactive is one way to avoid litigation, but, unfortunately, it’s not a guarantee.”
FED FACT: This year, nearly 1.5 million federal employees were invited to participate in FEVS, and 598,000 responded.
Article authored by Starr Wright USA.
Starr Wright USA is a marketing name for Starr Wright Insurance Agency, Inc. and its affiliate(s). Starr Wright USA is an insurance agency specializing in insurance solutions for federal employees and federal contractors. For more information, visit WrightUSA.com. Starr Wright USA is a division of Starr Insurance Companies, which is a marketing name for the operating insurance and travel assistance companies and subsidiaries of Starr International Company, Inc. and for the investment business of C.V. Starr & Co., Inc.