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On Engagement, Honesty and Walking Away in Austere Times

These are tough times and as many instinctively brace for impact in the face of looming cuts, I wanted to take a step back and reflect a little.

If you don’t find your work engaging, perhaps now is the best time to walk away

If the reason you work in the public sector is the stability, I would argue that that reason no longer exists. If you need evidence look at the magnitude of the projected cuts.

In austere times, we probably need engaged public more than ever.

Untitled by Fire At Will [Photography]

Walking away from a job takes courage and honesty

It’s a kind of courage that isn’t easy in bleak economic times, but one that will be offset by a kind honesty that’s both personally satisfying and deeply moving to others.

I know we all have to put food on the table and clothes on our backs, but if it came down to you or someone else you know – say a friend – who was far more engaged in their work than you were, wouldn’t you want to see them continue that work?

If the roles were reversed, wouldn’t you want someone to step in and offer you the same opportunity?

I know I would.

One last thing

The worst thing anyone could do right now is make uniformed decisions. There are a number of options available to public servants affected by Work Force Adjustment (WFA) (including alternation which I refer to implicitly above); I had no clue what these were until a friend sat me down and walked me through them.

I strongly recommend speaking to your manager, your human resources officer, your union rep, or consulting the Treasury Board website for more information; the budget drops March 29th.

Originally published by Nick Charney at cpsrenewal.ca


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Eric Koch

Hi Nicholas, thanks for sharing and great thought as I agree wholeheartedly with what you’re saying. I’d like to share a quote someone passed on to me that I like to look at a few times a week: “Go to work, send your kids to school, follow fashion, act normal. Walk on the pavement, watch TV. Save for your old age. Obey the law. Repeat after me, ‘I am free.’ “

Not sure of the source, but reading your post reminded me of this.

David Dejewski

An excellent subject, Nicholas. Walking away takes a lot of courage. Being honest with ourselves takes even more than courage. Thanks for sharing this post!

Thomas W. Thornberry

A timely posting for me; I was a mid-level mental health professional for fifteen years, but burned out probably 3-4 years before I left the profession. The opportunity came when I was downsized from my job of nine years, when I finally faced up to the fact that that my passion for that particular brand of helping had long-been consumed. Now I’m pursuing public sector service because I’m particularly seeking esprit de corp. I’d like to find a good, motivated team of colleagues with whom I can dovetail my abilities and provide support. But I still think like a counselor, so I guess one never *completely* leaves the profession. Anyone have experience with transitioning to a new career path that makes better use of skills from a previous profession *than* the previous profession? That’s what I’m hoping to find! 😉

Thanks for the informative piece!

Thomas W. Thornberry

Licensed Psychological Practitioner


Donald Bauer

Very salient points, and, I DID exactly that. Walked away. (GS-15 with 18.5 yrs combined service) My frustration about not being able to be effective drove me to seek alternatives. As somone who came from a very successful stint in the private sector (6 yrs ago), accompanied by the nearly 40% tax rate that went with it, I realized it was a waste of taxpayer dollars if I stayed.

Budget cuts have been so deep and wide spread that any plans to make things better are put on hold indefinitely. The Fed is notorious for continuing to fund less than effective solutions (in the absence of none at all) because procurement and funding are frozen for any new requests. Couple THAT with the fact that for the last few years everyone is operating on a contuing resolution which, by design, gives the agencies less than full funding. Of course we found it ironic that congress could wisk through a pay freeze, but they just can’t do any other meaningful work. That uncertainty has made purchasing anything a sheer nightmare. It becomes a teeter-totter-ish balancing act simply to maintain current operations. Ironically enough, all of those things that make employees better are the first to go in austere times. Training and travel are severely cutailed and very little career development is conducted. The collateral damage from this is the young and impressionable Gen Y/Millennials develop a perception that the Fed not a career of choice, and leaving.

The unintended consequences of congressional grandstanding is an unhealthy blanket of terror gripping all civil servants. Baby boomers who took it in the shorts over the market hiccups, have stayed longer. Many agencies remain filled with OBD (One Bad Day) retirement eligible, senior people who ARE getting fed up and departing. The paiful side effect is no turnover, no training and zero corporate knowledge transfer. Add to that, hiring freezes have pretty much shut out the next generation of Federal employee, or worse, they replace a senior GS14 with an entry level GS7 and make EVERYONE’S work load increase.

As we watch our buying power decline while the cost of living increases, the situation only adds a new type stress to the mix. And if that isn’t enough, there is also the daily gautlett/drama of traffic/metro/train to deal with (in the DC Metro area).

What I did do leading up to my departure was ensure my position as recorded by OPM was correct. As a vet, I made sure my military service buy back into FERS was properly validated and that my “tenure” was properly recorded. I fully intend on returning, but being in the DC Metro area as a Fed is like walking around with a big target on your back.

As we used to say in the Navy, “the floggings will continue until morale improves”. The sums it up nicely.