Staying Motivated in a Public Sector Job

“That’s normal city pace” is something of a running joke at the local municipality I work for. By normal pace, my coworkers and I mean slow. We often set ideal project deadlines and miss them by months or even years. Sometimes things just never get completed. I know it’s not just us. Bureaucratic red tape, shrinking or inflexible budgets, or frequent changes in management are all common issues facing public sector organizations.

Even though progress sometimes gets made at a snail’s pace, I’m still really proud of what my organization accomplishes, such as a plethora of successful arts, economic and sustainability initiatives that positively impact the community. I work in an IT department committed to open source development, and we’ve successfully completed tech projects uncommon for cities twice our size. I’m very grateful for the seven years I’ve been able to be a part of the organization and the values and integrity I see exhibited in my coworkers.

Still, sometimes it’s just hard to stay motivated, when projects I’ve been excited about are stalled or replaced by some new more pressing priority, or when the three levels of approvals I need are daunting. Or when I’m fielding a bunch of complaints from staff members or the public over some issue I have little control over.

Nonprofit workers often face compassion fatigue when they’re giving more energy and encouragement than they’re receiving. I think a common problem occurs in government employment. Many of us work in the public sector because we believe in what we do. We don’t always have the same incentives (higher salaries, creative or flexible working environments, bigger budgets) that we would if we worked in the private sector. While there are other great benefits to working in the public sector, such as the quality of people we work alongside, I believe that many of us are led by our hearts – the desire to help people, to change things. And with that can come motivation fatigue.

Here are a few things I’ve found that help. Note that in my IT job, I sit in front of a computer most of the time, so some of these might be more relatable for another tech professional.

  • Taking walk breaks or working out on my lunch break.
  • New music
  • Explaining my project vision to someone in another department or a friend
  • Inspiring white pages or slideshows about other organizations’ successful projects
  • Reading inspiring posts about other people’s motivation, like Priyanka’s great post on “Leading without a Title
  • Reading compliments submitted from the public. If your organization doesn’t ask for compliments along with complaints, I highly recommend it!

What keeps you motivated?

Jera Brown 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.

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply