The Fed Coach: Inspiring a Badly Battered Federal Workforce

It has not been an easy time for federal employees, with the pay freeze, attacks on the public sector, budget cutbacks and then the threat of a government shutdown.

To add insult to injury, hundreds of thousands of federal workers were told on the eve of the possible shutdown they were non-essential, not exactly an inspiring or motivating message.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among those who tried to take away that sting, sending an email to employees emphasizing the non-essential designation was part of a legal requirement and does not reflect “on the importance of employees’ individual contributions to the U.S. government or the American people whom we serve.”

Such words are certainly appreciated, and there has been great relief that the government remained open for business. But the lack of information leading up to the threatened shutdown, and last-minute instructions from supervisors at many agencies, left federal workers unnerved and has increased concerns about what may happen during the next potential crisis–enacting the fiscal 2012 budget by Oct. 1.

Unfortunately, as a federal manager, you must now clean up a mess that you didn’t create and cannot control. So, where do you start? Here are some ideas for repairing relationships with your employees and inspiring high performance among a badly battered federal workforce.

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Carol Davison

Actually I am greatful that I have a job, medical care and a pension when many do not. In a bad econmy pay freezes are only logical. I belive it would be unreasonable and perhaps arrogant to get a raise when so many are unemployed. Yes there will always be attacks on public servants because some are not. As for the furlough I thought it was just political posturing and didn’t expect it to occur. To be termed non essential is just a legal terms and means that I am not on call on the weekends and don’t have to stay in the buildling if there is a bomb scare like I used to in the past. I guess that I must be intrinsicly motivated. Additionallyl Secretary Locke at Commerece did a fabulous job of thanking us for our service, saying he apprecated us, and our superivsors met with us face to face regarding the furlough and sent us links too. Considering that I work in HR and our superivsors were incredibily busy caring for customers pre furlough this was a tall order. GO OS HR Leadership! It seems to me that if we Federal employees want to be held in high regard we need to sympathize with those who are unemployed, and put a little steel in our spine.

Anne Steppe

What you describe at State sounds nice. Perhaps I am just too cynical because I find most of the “thanks for everything” messages from the Secretary (not Clinton) to be total crap. Let’s be real – the everyday worker is not on the mind of the Secretary or anyone else at that level. I absolutely hate (!) those e-mails and feel as though I’ve got the words “gullible” or “moron” tatooed on my forehead for believing the Secretary cares one iota for anyone or anything other than promoting and supporting that which is in his own world, a world, by the way, that is quite a distance away from the average Federal employee. Just look at Congress – while the Federal employee will see pay freezes and furloughs, Congress excused themselves from “sharing the pain.” Anyone working on the Hill has come away relatively unscathed (and let’s not forget those outlandish bonuses those on the Hill receive from their Congressperson when other Agencies say they are too broke to offer any incentive awards. I received an Outstanding performance evaluation last year and haven’t seen as much as a day off in appreciation for dedicated service.) It’s going to take a lot more to repair relationships and inspire high performance than what is being suggested.