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Shutdown and Shutout? Are you considering leaving gov?

We are now in day eight of the government shutdown and with no resolution in sight, many are starting to worry about the long-term ramifications of the shutdown. One of those ramifications could be young people turning away from government service.

And who could blame them? The shutdown and sequestration have turned the once stable government career into a roller coaster of furloughs, pay freezes and budget cuts.

Tom Fox is the Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that you can already see current federal interns turning away from a career in government service.


“I was at an event last night for the Washington Center’s internship program. I had a chance to talk to some of the current interns and of this current crop, 90 of them are furloughed. They moved to DC to join the public service for now for a short-term time and then ultimately for a long-term career and they are literally shut out from doing their work. It is frustrating to say the least and for those that are already full-time employee it is incredibly damaging,” said Fox.

Goodbye government service?

“You need a paycheck to pay for rent and all the other necessities of life. There is a much greater uncertainty and frankly a fear associated with a government job than ever before. We are starting to see a bunch of people say ‘we want to pursue public service, but government is only one path. Maybe I’ll just try a non-profit instead,’” said Fox.

Will the shutdown affect the government’s ability to hire?

“Absolutely, I think that you will get a lot of folks who will consider other career options before they consider government. Government for a long time offered not just the ability to do public service but also stability. When you eliminate stability as one of the primary draws of a career you do a great disservice. Right now feds don’t know if they are going to get paid. They don’t know when they will be able to go to work. You are literally not able to do your public service, so people are looking for ways that they can do good work, they can make real contributions to society, but in the absence of some of the games that are being played right now,” said Fox.

What can leaders do to ease the shutdown stress?

  1. Under the current circumstances, as is appropriate based on your agency’s guidance, you should reach out to your folks and make sure they are ok. I’ve talked to leaders who have said they have sent personal emails or texts – obviously not on federal phones, just to check in.

  2. Once the government re-opens you really need to work quite aggressively to re-recruit that talent. Don’t just think that an email to the team saying, ‘glad your back’ will be enough. You need to really think about multiple methods of communicating with, listening to and really working with your employees.

“If you can lock arms with your employees and really rally around each other when the government reopens, it will make a difference. You can’t do anything about pay or time off. But if you focus on getting back up and running that will demonstrate a real commitment on your part as a leader. It won’t get everybody and it may take a little time. But that is really your job as a leader. Leaders have to:

  • Define the goals.

  • Demonstrate passion.

  • Bring the energy that will ultimately become infectious.

Find the Mission

“I have heard a lot of stories of people who are still furloughed at the present moment of finding ways through volunteer activities to still connect with their beneficiaries. Maybe I can’t do my job, but I could volunteer for a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. They are finding ways to serve their beneficiaries albeit without a paycheck,” said Fox.

The Service to America Medals were held last thursday despite the shutdown. Why was that so important? (Our recap of the event)

“The Sammies were a spotlight in all the doom and gloom that is currently surrounding the government. It was also an opportunity to see the best of the best. I think for any leader whether you are at the top of the house or on the frontlines, it is an illustration that despite those difficulties, really exceptional leadership can see folks through whatever the difficulty. It is important not to forget that. To make every effort to see that you are connecting to the mission and to motivate your people. You are clearing their paths,” said Fox.

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8 Comments

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Profile Photo Juan C. Mendez

This article hits the issue right on the nail. These have been some of my concerns for while. I have witness some of the effects of both sequestration and the govt shutdown directly.

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Profile Photo R J Parry

I joined Federal Service in Sept 1996 and bought back my military time. The Dept of Defense afforded me excellent training opportunities and multiple challenging assignments. No I am not able to foresee the future but I decided to retire at the 61 years of age 31 years of service milestone. I can see many more of my peers seriously considering “punching out” and looking in the private sector or just enjoying life as it comes. YEARS OF NO PAY RAISES, Sequestration and Furloughs will continue to have a dramatic effect on federal employees and the ability to hire talented dedicated people.

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Profile Photo Eric Melton

Service is one thing, and is good; but yes, speaking career-wise – I came for the stability. But I’m no longer feeling so secure, and definitely not feeling rewarded…

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Profile Photo Steve

Many of these same things have already been faced (and to some extent, are still being faced) at the City, County, and State levels. While concerning, this on it’s own is not enough to make me consider leaving government. Lack of leadership, not being properly compensated for the work I do, and a lack of faith in how things are being run are more likely to make me leave government. Not that the private sector is necessarily better – they have their own problems. My first job was in the private sector.

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Profile Photo Chris

For the past two years, the nicest comment I have been hearing from friends, neighbors, and churchgoers is

“Oh, you are working for the fed?” Yes, it really raise my morale!

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Profile Photo Juan C. Mendez

The problem is that these issues are keeping new prospective candidates from even reaching their goals at a govt career. I have been stuck in processes for months because hiring freezes and holdouts. so for some is not a question about leaving its a question about how do i even begin.

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Profile Photo Joshua Millsapps

I have seen more and more talented government folks consider moving or moving on over the last few years and that trend is only going to increase in light of the current situation. The federal workforce has been treated as something that can always be replenished and which has very little value. If we keep doing that long enough the latter will become true. No matter how dedicated talented people can only take so much instability and abuse.

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Profile Photo Kathy Bowman

Some will, some won’t. This HAS happened before, if we think in more than just news cycles. If you believe in federal service, you’ll probably stay. If you don’t, that’s a fair thing to do. Take the long view…

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