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Daily Dose: How Can Seasoned Feds Get Their Mojo Back?

Back in early September, I asked a forum question around the findings of a new study which found that younger feds are happier at work. My colleague Alicia Mazzara summarized it in her Federal Buzz article in the Washington Post today.

Study: Federal job satisfaction higher if you’re young

In her article and as previously discussed on GovLoop, there are several theories as to why younger workers may be happier. Some attribute this to a new employee’s “honeymoon phase” at the job, while others believe it is more to do with the economy – anyone getting hired is happy to be in work.

However, these findings also make me wonder about the more seasoned federal workers:

Are they truly unhappy at work, or just not as ecstatic as the newer employees?

How can you rekindle the flame that initially sparked your enthusiasm for public service?

Or did the flame ever die?


“Daily Dose of the Washington Post” is a blog series created by GovLoop in partnership with The Washington Post. If you see great a story in the Post and want to ask a question around it, please send it to [email protected].

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Kerry Ann O'Connor

As a Fed 13 years into my career, I’ve been exploring this topic from both a personal perspective, as well as a professional and organizational perspective.

In one of Paul Coehlo’s novels, he describes enthusiasm: “Enthusiasm normally manifests itself with all of its force during the first years of our lives….We lose enthusiasm because of the small unavoidable defeats we suffer during the good fight.”

If, over your career, you have enough people telling you this can’t be done, that can’t be done, without giving your ideas for how it can be done, you start to lose momentum. As someone was quoted in the original WP article noted, if you feel “tied down with a mortgage, family, etc…..” and you feel like you’re facing “…the cold, hard realities of adulthood,” you face the 2nd half of Coehlo’s quote:

And since we don’t realize that enthusiasm is a major strength, able to help us win ultimate victory, we let it dribble through our fingers; we do this without recognizing that we are letting the true meaning of our lives escape us.

You come in wanting to fight the good fight, to make government better, to serve the people, and you leave counting your blessings that you could pay your mortgage? Is that really what it’s all about? Say it ain’t so!

Somewhere, in the midst of our careers, we lose perspective. When you begin to operate from a place of fear, you get tunnel vision.

One way to help regain perspective is through mid-career rotational programs. In my agency, a colleague posted this idea on our open suggestion forum. They titled it “Renewing and Refreshing Federal Employees.” And the description went like this:

“The Department should implement a one month to six-week rotation or exchange program for supervisors and managers with their counterparts in the private and non-profit sector. This rotation should be mandatory for all supervisors/managers who have served in the federal government for ten years without interruption. Many supervisors/managers who have been career public servants might benefit from understanding how the private sector and nonprofit sector work and possibly return with innovative ideas that will increase productivity and efficiency among their staff.”

Our HR Department agreed, and noted that we have a good number of rotational programs and long-term training opportunities. But obviously, the opportunities may not fit everyone or be available for everyone who wants it.

Another idea is to facilitate idea generations/suggestion forums, such as the one that I run, so that employees can get answers to the “what if…” questions we came in with when we were enthusiastic entry-level employees. Not to mention that current, curious, entry-level employees get to read the answers as they’re formulating ideas about what can and can’t, be done; has and hasn’t been tried before. This allows them to meet reality before it gets cold and hard, and work with it.

Finally, individuals have to want to renew their enthusiasm. Regardless of the “cold, hard, realities of adulthood,” one has to decide to get one’s mojo back and be relentless in making time for it. This is what I’ve been exploring in my personal life, and you can follow my adventures in my blog, Renewable Enthusiasm, particularly this entry Workaholism and the Head Fake.