How to Give Recognition to Government Employees

According to the results from the Office of Personnel Management’s 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, federal employees overwhelmingly feel like their work as government employees is not being recognized or appreciated. This is problematic because an engaged and satisfied workforce is key to driving agencies’ missions.

Fortunately, the Partnership for Public Service has made it a part of their mission to ensure that federal employees are recognized for the necessary work that they do. One way they do this is through the Service to America Medals (SAMMIES), also known as the Oscars of government service. Receiving a SAMMIE is a great honor in the federal government and reserved for the best, brightest and most innovative public-sector employees.

The Partnership recently hosted a Recognition in Government Forum and Reception that brought together a panel of former SAMMIES winners as well as the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, to discuss the importance of public recognition in the federal government and how to do so most effectively.

The panel of former SAMMIE winners and finalists included:

  • Tate Jarrow is a Special Agent in the U.S. Secret Service. He won in the Call to Service category at last year’s SAMMIEs for his critical role in two cybercrime investigations. He helped bring individuals to justice who were involved in hacking, stock manipulation, credit card fraud, money laundering, and other illicit activities.
  • Alfred League won a SAMMIE in the National Security and International Affairs category when he was Division Chief of Imagery and Geospatial Sciences at the National Imagery and Mapping Agency back in 2002. His work provided American military personnel with the real-time information that they needed through geospatial intelligence tools to ensure operational success in the battlefield.
  • Lilia McFarland is the New and Beginning Farmer and Ranch Program Coordinator at the Farm Service Agency in the Department of Agriculture. She was a finalist in the Call to Service category last year for the interagency effort she led to help build the next generation of farmers and ranchers by creating a single customer service platform for them. Her work allows new farmers to go to a single platform to get all the information they may need about getting started in the farming industry.
  • Sean Young is a 2014 winner in the National Security and International Affairs category for the work he did while he was an Electronics Engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory. He was recognized for creating and deploying an aerial sensor system that saved soldiers’ lives in Afghanistan by helping Army and Special Forces units detect and destroy deadly improvised explosive devices in the field.

All of the panelists agreed that recognition is key to a successful and effective workforce. Key function of recognition. “Recognition for me was an engine of innovation. When you are trying to do something new and change processes, it is really great when your boss is likes your idea and wants to recognize it,” McFarland said. “It encourages everyone on the team to reach a little more.”

Additionally, recognition is all about tailoring it to the person or team you are trying to recognize. Jarrow explained, “As Secret Services officers, there are not explicit intrinsic awards you can point to because success for us means that the person we are protecting is still alive so it can be challenging to measure outcomes.” In situations like this, it is important for recognition to play a role in helping people feel rewarded when their job function doesn’t offer appreciation organically.

League added that leaders are in a unique role to build up the teams around them through thoughtful recognition. “Recognition played a critical role in the careers of those around me because it allowed me to become a cheerleader for my coworkers,” he said. “When I was in a senior position and I had the opportunity to offer recognition, it didn’t cost me anything and payed off in massive dividends.”

It is equally important to counter the stigma of recognition surrounding recognition as it is to start proactively giving it. One way to reduce the stigma that surrounds public appreciation in government is to learn other people’s stories and share the cool work that you see happening. Young recommended, “Go and make an effort to get to know people and tell their story to your colleagues to bring awareness of the great work that is going on in the federal government.” Doing this allows you to raise awareness and collaboration across the public-sector.

Secretary Carson concluded the panel by giving some of his own tips for recognition from the executive perspective:

  • Make the career workforce feel appreciated. “The career people are the only reason we have been able to get things done at HUD,” Carson explained. “I’m finding that people who have been here for 10, 20, and 30 years have some really good ideas.” Carson recommended recognizing the work of the career workforce by creating an open environment where people feel valued. He personally does this by attending intra-agency events and getting as much face time as he can with his workforce.
  • Leverage special assignments. Giving employees more responsibility or projects in something that they are interested in is a great way to foster mutually beneficial recognition. “I keep a special eye out for high performers and make sure we give the special assignments,” Carson said. “It’s a two-way street because the high performer gets to work on a project that they will excel at and the agency will reap the benefits of that.”
  • Create an environment that people don’t want to leave. Carson recommended that agency leadership make employees feel like they are a part of the organization through appreciation and engagement. He concluded, “Invest a significant amount of time to find the best people and figure out how to keep them. You will not accomplish anything as a leader without a good team around you.”

Ready to give a federal employee some well-deserved recognition? You can vote for the SAMMIEs People’s Choice honoree until September 15th here.

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