During the government shutdown, federal employees in cities nationwide rallied together. Not just the 800,000 affected by the shutdown, but also their fellow employees still on the job. They came together for a common cause. How do you harness that unity to rally employees to create an impact in their everyday workplace?[i]
It starts with motivation. Federal employees want to do the right thing. That’s why they joined the federal workforce. They want their government and their agencies to succeed. But, how can leaders rally the troops after the impact of the shutdown and concerns about potential pay freezes, changes in retirement benefits, and organizational changes?
2018’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government[ii] reported a significant decrease in federal employee engagement. When employee morale is down, how do you motivate them?
The report, produced by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, showed that employee engagement had dropped at almost 60 percent of federal agencies. According to the report, more than pay, effective leadership is the biggest influence on employee engagement. While there may be government-wide issues that need to be addressed, individual work units can find ways to create a positive impact within their organization.
One example also came from a study by the Partnership for Public Services of 150 VA medical centers over three years. The study found that centers with stronger employee engagement resulted in better care levels for patients and lower turnover of nursing staff.[iii]
Two of the centers that had performance problems “successfully reversed course.” The steps it took included getting employee feedback, acting on the feedback that was obtained from employees, connecting employees to a shared mission, and recognizing staff performance. These are low-cost measures that made a big difference.
Other steps that fostered improvement included providing leadership and relationship building training at all levels, not just senior management, empowering staff members, and using employee surveys to identify and resolve workplace issues.
“Fostering engagement is about much more than creating satisfied and committed federal employees. It’s also about providing better service to the public,” the VA report said.
A medical center is a unique workplace –and the VA has been under pressure, including negative media coverage to improve its performance. But, the steps taken by the two underperforming medical centers can be applied in any work setting.
Employee surveys can be an important tool to measure employee engagement. Since they are anonymous, employees can express opinions freely without fear of reprisal. Just as important as giving the surveys is responding to them. Let employees know the results including what problem issues are identified. Then explain how those issues will be addressed.[iv]
Encouraging employees to provide their input on an ongoing basis whether it is one-on-one interactions or group meetings not only can result in effective ideas from the front lines but also shows employees their opinions are valued.
Communication fosters trust. In addition to explaining employee survey results, ongoing communications about changes, new policies, and priorities are important. If employees don’t know what is going on, they are not going to be engaged.
If your organization needs to change to improve, clearly explain what the changes are, why they are needed, and employees’ roles in making the change happen.
Make sure everyone in your organization is on the same page as to your mission and objectives. Miscommunications among functional units can hamper employee engagement with each other, not just with senior management. Also, having a shared purpose is what teamwork is all about.
Training builds the skills needed to improve any organization. It enables employees to potentially build their careers while gaining the competence to address the organization’s issues. Training employees to achieve individual career goals also aligns with meeting the organization’s goals such as improving procedures, workflow, or technology.
Unfortunately, efforts to create a positive impact on your organization can be misconstrued. Change can make employees wary and defensive. If a manager reassigns an employee to implement a needed change, the employee can take that as a demotion in status. A discussion about performance providing constructive criticism can be taken as a slight or discrimination.
While it is important for leaders to implement changes, it is also important they obtain insurance protection for themselves. Starr Wright USA Federal Employee Personal Liability Insurance (FEPLI) has been covering federal employees for over 50 years. To learn more, visit www.wrightusa.com.
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.