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4 Easy Ways Leaders Can Improve Morale

It’s well known that federal employee spirits are low, but how low? Record low?

Seems like that could be the case.The Office of Personnel Management recently surveyed the 2.1 million workers across the government about their satisfaction at work and the results were troubling.

The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government Report found federal workforce satisfaction has dropped for the third straight year, to the lowest level since the rankings were first published in 2003. Meanwhile, employee satisfaction in the private sector is up.

The results are a double whammy for federal managers and staff alike. So what can leaders do? Tom Fox, Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that when the dominos are stacked against you, like they are now for feds, you have to lean in and be the hero for your staff.

“Leaders do have a choice,” Fox said. “In my opinion they have a choice to either be the hero or the victim. A lot of leaders I come into contact with are comfortable playing the role of victim, saying ‘there’s so many bad things happening, the environment is so toxic that there’s very little I can do.’

“When in actuality, we’ve seen plenty of leaders at all different levels in agencies across government who are saying, ‘I’ll do whatever, whenever, to improve employee morale.’ We’ve found is a lot a times, it’s the subtle change, it’s not the big changes that make the most difference.”

However, being the “hero” is easier said than done. Fox recommends that leaders start by talking with their employees both informally — and formally — more often.

Fox’s four tips for breaking down the communication barrier are as follows:

  1. Create regular team meetings, and one-on-one check-ins
  2. Send out a weekly email summary of your and your team’s activities
  3. Walk the halls and catch people informally to chat
  4. Ask how employees are feeling – and mean it

A lot of times leaders want to seem like they have all the information, answers and knowledge before they talk to their employees, but Fox said that approach is a mistake. He advises that the best step is to let your employees know exactly what you know and what you don’t know.

“In the current environment there are things that leaders can do very little about, but you might uncover some things that you can do something about if you keep the dialogue open. You have to be candid with your employees.”

Want another way to boost morale? Keep your whiny staff members in check.

“A lot of times it can feel like being a leader is akin to being a punching bag, and you do have to hear some of those complaints out. You have to respect that folks have a perspective,” said Fox. “But as the old cliché says, ‘You can’t give all the grease to the squeaky wheel.’ You also have to tend to those folks who are working really hard to do a good job and find ways to clear the path. You have to separate the wheat from the chaff, but you need to make sure that you’re listening to all your employees and making sure that you do separate out the 20% who will likely always be negative from the 20% who are really interested in trying to help you make a difference.”

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Brady Reed

Emily – important post. For transparency, I work as a contract consultant for FranklinCovey and many Government employees have attended a “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” course. It’s transformational, but rarely sticks without leaders who nurture the culture. Recently, Covey introduced a 1-day 7H Leader’s Implementation course to help do just that based on world-wide studies of companies. However, you could also nourish the 7 Habits using Fox’s 4 tips – just discuss a Habit or whatever the important cultural points are in those moments. This is where managers can really add value to people’s lives and their organizations.