Public animosity towards government is one factor contributing to low morale among feds. Poor morale may lead to decreased productivity and increased indifference to mission-related work. Other detrimental repercussions associated with low morale include employee disengagement and absenteeism.
Now a leading federal employee union is upping the ante to change the negative image of government in general and feds in particular. It's doing so by sponsoring a national public service campaign shining a spotlight on the beneficial work feds do for America every day.
It’s about time.
“Drawing a Connection”
The new campaign is sponsored by the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) with the slogan: “Federal Employees…They Work for U.S.”
According to NTEU, the campaign is “aimed at drawing a connection between what dedicated public servants do at work and the quality of our lives.”
It should be noted that this campaign is not about lobbying Congress for better pay and benefits. To the contrary, it’s about changing the fundamental nature of how the public views feds. This is arguably a more vexing challenge (to which I can attest as a veteran federal communicator).
As the Washington Post reports on the NTEU campaign:
- “The effort does not encourage the public to press Congress on behalf of federal workers."
- "Using radio and television public-service announcements (PSA), a Web site and social media, the campaign does seek to create a positive image of them in the public’s mind.”
Safeguarding and enhancing federal pay and benefits is certainly important. Yet no price can be placed on erasing ugly stereotypes which have plagued Uncle Sam for decades.
Unfair characterizations of feds as "slackers" and "paper pushers" (to put it mildly) have only fueled public discontent and eviscerated trust in government.
Thus it's worth reiterating that pubic perceptions and deeply held beliefs are not easy to change. That’s why PR firms, pollsters and political consultants are paid the big bucks. That's also what makes the NTEU campaign so admirable and ambitious.
Life Without Feds
The campaign poses a simple but potent question: what would life be like without the vital public services provided by feds?
The inferred answers should be cause for public concern. As NTEU points out, without feds there would likely be more:
- Unsafe food and medicine
- Fraudulent financial institutions
- Terrorism and illicit drugs
- Hungry American children
- Unprotected national parks
- Unsafe air and drinking water
The list goes on…
Lack of Public Understanding
NTEU asserts that one main cause of distrust in government is a lack of public understanding about the work of civil servants.
“While federal employees touch our lives in innumerable ways, many Americans know little about the important contributions these dedicated civil servants make to keep our nation safe, healthy and moving forward,” the campaign website states.
Unfortunately, this lack of public understanding has been buttressed by incessant fed bashing by some members of Congress, political factions and anti-government groups. The results are troubling as feds have become easy scapegoats. To wit:
“The share of the public saying they are angry at the federal government has ticked up to 30%.” This marks a record-breaking level according to a recent major study by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press. Other findings include:
- “Another 55% say they are frustrated with the government.”
- “Just 12% say they are basically content with the federal government.”
- “Just 19% say that they trust the government in Washington to do what is right just about always or most of the time”
Superficial Silver Lining
But there may be a silver lining, albeit superficial, behind this ominous cloud of public disenchantment. That is, most citizens apparently view federal workers more positively than government as a whole – rather than considering the two as one and the same.
- “By about two-to-one (62% to 29%), more have a favorable than unfavorable opinion of federal government workers,” according to Pew.
However, anything below 65% used to be considered a failing grade, at least when Gen Xers and Baby Boomers were in school.
These figures are neither promising nor reassuring, especially as younger generations mature and consider careers in public service.
Therefore, federal employee unions should be praised for their ongoing efforts to support and defend the plight and public image of feds.
Moreover, NTEU in particular deserves many accolades for launching this new and exciting national public service campaign putting a "face to the case" for feds.
Let’s just hope this time the American people are listening.
* All views and opinions are those of the author only. The writer is not a member of any union.