3 Rules for Staying Positive and Proud as Federal Employees


I’ve spent most of my working life in the federal government — there’s nothing quite like it. Not many organizations give you the opportunity to work on behalf of others that is so closely tied to fulfilling our founding principles.

I’m sure many of you can relate. Perhaps you got into public service early in your career, or maybe you changed paths later in life. Whatever motivated you to join the federal workforce, you know firsthand the pride every federal employee takes in serving the public.

But, as with any career track, the rewards come with challenges. As you know, federal employees have to navigate changing managerial landscapes after election years and be nimble enough to shift direction when new appointees come on the job. We have to figure out how to climb the GS ladder and work well with temporary government contractors. We have to maintain a positive outlook so we can keep doing high-quality work and be an encouraging resource for grantees across the country.

I know how tough it can be. We face constant change, including big changes in chains of command and our agencies’ goals and priorities. In the face of change, my best advice is to maintain a sense of pride in your work, keep things in perspective, and find ways to support your colleagues and ask for their support in return. Here are three steps you can take:

  1. Remind each other why you’re here.We’re all here to help people. One way my colleagues and I make sure we remember that is by taking regular stock of the day-to-day impact we have on our customers.


If you work in digital media, for example, make sure you’re sharing your analytics with your staff. They’ll be able to see how many people downloaded content, viewed a page, commented on your Facebook feed, retweeted you, and so on.

You can also share stories about the impact your agency is having: People helped or research breakthroughs. Lives safer or enriched because of information you produce. Whether through the power of numbers or narrative, remind your colleagues that the work they do makes a difference every day to real people.

  1. Celebrate success often.If you’re a higher-up in your agency, be sure you’re regularly telling staff about the good things that happen: well-received social media launches or a policy change that will affect millions of people. Consistently send emails and make announcements at staff meetings about both the good the agency has done and the good that specific employees have done. At the Census Bureau, one of the ways we do this is with our Innovator of the Month nominations. Every month, we highlight incredible employees who are nominated by their peers as being change makers at the Census Bureau. Not only do staff members see their success and know their work is paying off, but they get to be an integral part of acknowledging their peers.

Even if you aren’t a higher-up, within your own team you can trumpet successes and thank everyone who contributed. Feeling that there’s something to celebrate can make the daily challenges of the job seem less taxing and more worthwhile.

  1. Build a resource network. When resources are limited, don’t be afraid to reach out to other agencies for help — or extend a helping hand in return. Sharing what we have with the greater government community helps everyone, at all levels of the organization, see that we are in this together. Examples include statements of work, procedure manuals or best practices. Chances are that whatever you need to do, you won’t have to start from scratch if you reach out to your peers.

In any career, it’s easy to lose some of your energy, momentum and enthusiasm over time. But I’ve found that the benefits of public service far outweigh the obstacles. By actively working at keeping myself and my employees motivated and engaged, I’m aiming for something bigger than all of us: our mission to serve the public. Stopping to reflect on our small successes and the people we’ve helped helps us remember why we chose to be public servants.

Jeannie Shiffer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Dianne Sutton

Very, very valid points that cover a multiplicity of behaviors and actions. Thank you. Might I add a personal perspective. When I was in the Federal system, I created a “brag book” which featured articles and letters, memos and stickies that people at work had given me for my contributions to the cause. It included citations, awards, etc. But you knew the star was me. No matter how many government closes downs, budget cuts and leadership changes, I was doing a good job. And most of all I was a good person.

Alan Barnes

Good advice Jeannie, I too am a federal employee and I can relate to everything that you mentioned. I’m a supervisor with SSA and one of the most difficult challenges that I seem to face is keeping my team motivated and engaged.