8 Things Government Employees Need Most

Jeff Haden has written a great post titled 8 Things Your Employees Need Most. While pay raises are nice, many studies have shown that higher pay alone does not result in a greater commitment or performance by employees.

Sadly, from my 17 years of experience in government, most government employment does not provide employees with the things they need most.

1. Freedom. Best practices can create excellence, but every task doesn’t deserve a best practice or a micro-managed approach. (Yes, even you, fast food industry.)

Autonomy and latitude breed engagement and satisfaction. Latitude also breeds innovation. Even manufacturing and heavily process-oriented positions have room for different approaches.

Whenever possible, give your employees the freedom to work they way they work best.

2. Targets. Goals are fun. Everyone—yes, even you—is at least a little competitive, if only with themselves. Targets create a sense of purpose and add a little meaning to even the most repetitive tasks.

Without a goal to shoot for, work is just work. And work sucks.

3. Mission. We all like to feel a part of something bigger. Striving to be worthy of words like “best” or “largest” or “fastest” or “highest quality” provides a sense of purpose.

Let employees know what you want to achieve, for your business, for customers, and even your community. And if you can, let them create a few missions of their own.

Caring starts with knowing what to care about—and why.

4. Expectations. While every job should include some degree of latitude, every job needs basic expectations regarding the way specific situations should be handled. Criticize an employee for expediting shipping today, even though last week that was the standard procedure if on-time delivery was in jeopardy, and you lose that employee.

Few things are more stressful than not knowing what your boss expects from one minute to the next.

When standards change make sure you communicate those changes first. When you can’t, explain why this particular situation is different, and why you made the decision you made.

5. Input. Everyone wants to offer suggestions and ideas. Deny employees the opportunity to make suggestions, or shoot their ideas down without consideration, and you create robots.

Robots don’t care.

Make it easy for employees to offer suggestions. When an idea doesn’t have merit, take the time to explain why. You can’t implement every idea, but you can always make employees feel valued for their ideas.

6. Connection. Employees don’t want to work for a paycheck; they want to work with and for people.

A kind word, a short discussion about family, a brief check-in to see if they need anything… those individual moments are much more important than meetings or formal evaluations.

7. Consistency. Most people can deal with a boss who is demanding and quick to criticize… as long as he or she treats every employee the same. (Think of it as the Tom Coughlin effect.)

While you should treat each employee differently, you must treat each employee fairly. (There’s a big difference.)

The key to maintaining consistency is to communicate. The more employees understand why a decision was made the less likely they are to assume favoritism or unfair treatment.

8. Future. Every job should have the potential to lead to something more, either within or outside your company.

For example, I worked at a manufacturing plant while I was in college. I had no real future with the company. Everyone understood I would only be there until I graduated.

One day my boss said, “Let me show you how we set up our production board.”

I raised an eyebrow; why show me? He said, “Even though it won’t be here, some day, somewhere, you’ll be in charge of production. You might as well start learning now.”

Take the time to develop employees for jobs they someday hope to fill—even if those positions are outside your company. (How will you know what they hope to do? Try asking.)

Employees will care about your business when you care about them first.

From my experience most government offices do not have targets, expectations, consistent management and employee input into decisions. What do you think about this list?


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Terrence (Terry) Hill

Fantastic list! Very comprehensive and it certainly caputures the current deficiencies in a lot of offices. Thanks for sharing this checklist. It’s a keeper!

Tayo Fayemi

I can agree with most of this list. My question is: how do we get government to incorporate these things into their business processes?

Corey McCarren

I like the last part about prepping employees for their next venture, even if externally. Let’s face it, if there’s no room for advancement the employee will leave. However they may be inclined to stay longer if they’re learning skills that will put them at an advantage at their next job, and when you feel like a company cares, you care.

Paul Wolf

You raise a good question Tayo. At the local government level we need county executives, mayors, and town supervisors who select department heads based on their talents and skills and not their political connections or political skills.

The tone for all of these items starts at the top. Frequently someone can become a Mayor without any real management experience. Being a state senator or some other elected position does not make one qualified to oversee multiple departments and large numbers of employees. Then when people focused on politics and without management experience select department heads, using the same criteria, you create the mess that exists in most government offices.

All that being said I support a City Manager form of government where a educated skilled professional runs the day to day operation with the authority to select department heads. A professional City Manager makes decisions based on qualifications and not based on obtaining votes or campaign dollars.

Joe Williams

It starts with the first leader in the chain, whether at the top or a first line supervisor, to create the environment of freedom, consistency, expectations, etc. When positive results become apparent, it will start a cascade of of others doing it, or being replaced by others who will. I’m convinced that this is the case – no degree of wishing on behalf of employees or sending leaders to charm school compares with the first leader actually doing it.

Pat Fiorenza

I really like this list – and agree with Joe’s comments below. I would add how important #3 mission is, setting the right course and making it known to the team. It’s always frustrating working on a project without really know what the end goal is, or why you’re working on it. People need to know that work has impact, and to know the impact – need to have the mission nailed down. Great points.

Noha Gaber

Nice list! I’ll add one more thing, and please feel free to file it under “Duh, goes without saying”…

#9. Colleagues with a basic level of professional skills. So while I totally agree that we need to work as a team and help each other out, when my work starts to get impacted because I have to spend a lot of time teaching other colleagues how to properly use the calendar scheduling feature, or track changes in Word, or have to redo someone else’s work because the report wasn’t presented in a logical, coherent fashion or ….you get the idea…it’s demoralizing.