Federal Coach

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

Blog archive

Federal Coach: How federal leaders should thank their employees

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

Public Service Recognition Week, celebrated from May 3 through 9, is a time to honor our public servants and reflect on the benefits they provide to the American people.

Government employees are often taken for granted, that is until there is a crisis and the public expects that they will step in and immediately solve the problem at hand. And when things go wrong, of course, there is no shortage of criticism and outrage.

Those who are in the trenches know that government employees are successfully working every day behind the scenes on a wide range of endeavors that help the public — disease prevention, public safety, national security, education, transportation, veterans’ care and so much more.

While praise from the public would be more than welcomed, it is critically important for such recognition to come from federal leaders as well. They need to let employees know that they are valued and that the work they do is important.

A number of leaders are doing so this week.

For starters, President Obama issued a proclamation in honor of the nation’s public servants, the House and Senate approved resolutions designating this week as Public Service Recognition Week, and all 15 Cabinet secretaries signed a letter paying “special tribute” to the men and women serving at all levels of government.

A number of Cabinet secretaries have also stepped up to show appreciation for the workforce. Secretary of State John Kerry, for example, issued a statement noting that “public servants aren’t thanked often enough.”

“I wish it were different. But we didn’t choose this course in life for the back slaps or the gold stars. We do it because we care — because it’s a calling we can’t ignore,” Kerry said.

Though public servants may not have chosen their line of work for the praise, it's good that several federal leaders have realized the importance of openly showing their appreciation. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro were among those issuing statements of thanks to their employees.

Others, in addition to providing statements, are taking this week to turn the spotlight on particularly remarkable workers within their agencies. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez will announce the 2015 Secretary’s Honor Awards during the week, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy called attention to three EPA employees who are finalists for the 2015 Service to America Medals.

Then there are those leaders who are making a point to thank employees in person for their service. At the Peace Corps, Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and senior leaders are greeting employees in the headquarters lobby with coffee and pastries throughout the week to show their appreciation. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson did something similar, greeting Customs and Border Protection officers and Transportation Security Administration agents at the Miami airport this past weekend.

Of course, such praise, support and encouragement should come throughout the year, not just once a year, and it should come not just from those at the top, but from managers up and down the chain of command.

For the rank-and-file and for managers as well, it also would be worthwhile to step back for a moment, remember why you serve and feel proud of what you do. In his proclamation, President Obama put it this way:

“Public service is a calling…It embodies our sense of shared values and reflects our drive to serve a cause beyond our own—to give back to our nation, leave our mark and nudge history forward. There is no greater opportunity to help more people or to make a bigger difference.”

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on May 19, 2015 at 4:44 PM

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