Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

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Federal Coach: Smart leadership can ease federal workers' dissatisfaction with pay

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

Federal employee satisfaction with pay was down 6.1 percent during 2011, the most significant drop in almost 10 years.

As a federal leader, your initial reaction might be to throw your hands up in air. After all, you have no control over your employees’ pay and benefits. That’s completely in the hands of Congress, which imposed a two-year pay freeze in 2010 and has threatened other cutbacks.

Yet there are steps you can take to make a difference for your employees and agency. While the size of the paycheck matters, great leadership trumps strained resources, according to a Best Places to Work in the Federal Government analysis by my organization, the Partnership for Public Service. In fact, leadership is five times more likely to motivate employees than their pay. In addition, the link between an employee’s skills and the agency mission is roughly three times more important than pay.

As an agency senior leader or supervisor, you can double-down and keep your employees satisfied and motivated by making your workplace an environment that empowers employees, by ensuring they have meaningful work and by involving them in decision-making when possible. Your employees did not sign up for federal service to get rich. They’re on the job because they want to make a difference.

Here are some additional ideas to maintain employee satisfaction and commitment even in this current economic climate:

Spend time with your employees. Federal employee dissatisfaction with pay may engender a feeling that their work and efforts are not seen as valuable. A manager can make a big difference by ensuring that each employee knows that their work is both acknowledged and appreciated. It doesn’t have to be a monetary award. A few words of genuine praise in the hallway, a personal written note of gratitude or stopping by an employee’s work station to say thanks in person can do wonders to boost morale and reinforce commitment to the job.

Recognize top performers. It’s easy to criticize an employee or a work group when something goes wrong. However, an effective manager will go out of the way to publicly recognize outstanding work.

Connect the job to the mission. Make sure employees understand the connection between their job and the agency’s goals and priorities. Enhance an employee’s sense of personal accomplishment by finding ways to demonstrate that because they did their job well, the organization was able to better serve the public and accomplish its mission.

Empower your employees. Make sure that good use is being made of each employee’s abilities. For example, if an employee is especially skilled in doing a particular task, let them take the lead at training others. Look for ways to empower employees to get the job done in the best way possible rather than mandating the path that should be taken.

Provide perspective. While your employees may honestly think they’re being treated unfairly when it comes to pay, that’s not always accurate. If there is data available that demonstrates that at least some perceptions are inaccurate, make that information available. It may be, for example, that pay is lower than the private sector, but that the benefits or the work-life balance in government are superior.

Keep employees in the loop. Federal leaders need to have open and frequent communications with their staff. They should share information about what’s going on in the organization — the good, the bad and the ugly. Employees will appreciate being treated like adults. Ask for employee feedback and take what they tell you seriously. And if changes are made based on the feedback, let employees know that.

What are you doing to keep your employees motivated during this time of budget constraints and concern over pay? Please share your suggestions by emailing me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Jun 11, 2012 at 4:02 PM

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