Spring 2014
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The Public Manager

Decreasing Engagement Highlights Less Desirable Government Jobs

Friday, March 14, 2014

The new workplace reality in the public sector comes with new expectations and new solutions that managers need to embrace to successfully complete their agency's mission.

Recurring pay freezes, furloughs, shrinking resources, and disruptive shutdowns have made highly sought-after government jobs less popular and less desirable. And for those workers already part of the public sector, many have become unsatisfied and disengaged.

Unfortunately, this is the new reality. Managers must accept that and find new ways to meet these challenges. This Forum examines these challenges and gives managers strategies and best practices to successfully rebuild and re-engage their workers, create stability in their workplaces, and find new and more efficient ways to accomplish their agency missions.

As Thad Juszczak notes in his article "After the Shutdown," the October 2013 shutdown happened at the beginning of a new fiscal year, which brought many new challenges to leaders and managers in the different agencies—from shutting down agency operations efficiently and identifying specific activities that could continue during the shutdown, to restoring operations when employees were called back to work on October 17.

The federal government shutdown, furloughs, and shrinking resources do not affect only federal agency employees; they also have an impact on state governments. According to Scott D. Pattison, in his article "The Federal Shutdown's Impact on States," the shutdown was extremely disruptive for state governments because "state governments manage so many federal programs, including food stamps." The shutdown of the federal government also led to state furloughs of employees who manage federally funded programs.

Federal managers and supervisors face new challenges in the wake of vast and widespread budget cuts, staff reductions, and low morale. Bernetta Reese, in her article "Embracing the Call to Service," writes that managers and supervisors "must find new ways to motivate and attract employees while balancing increasing demands on today's workforce. ... Federal employees must learn how to fully acknowledge and embrace their roles to truly appreciate the value of their service."

The 2013 results of the Best Places to Work in Government Survey, based on responses from more than 376,000 federal employees, show that government-wide employee satisfaction scores have dropped for the third year in a row to 57.8 percent. "If there is anyone who still believes that we can continue to starve the government, denigrate public service, and whittle away at public employees with impunity, recent events in the federal government serve as a reality check," writes John M. Palguta in his article "Rebuilding and Re-Engaging a Battered Public Sector Workforce." His article highlights six strategies that managers can use to re-engage employees.

Imagine being told your position is not "essential." That's what more than 800,000 employees were told when they were locked out of their offices during the recent government shutdown. A GovLoop "You Are Essential" campaign asked federal workers to explain why they are essential. The article by Emily Jarvis, "The Missing Voice in the Government Shutdown," uncovers five major consequences of the government shutdown.


Greg Stanford, of the Federal Managers Association, writes that we can no longer use the term "doing more with less." Instead, managers need to alter their expectations of what is achievable in this new workplace reality. In his article, "Management Beyond ‘Doing More With Less,' " Stanford writes that managers "need to be candid and honest so that decision makers and the electorate have a clear understanding of the consequences of sequestration and fiscal uncertainty. This results in furloughs and reductions in force that disrupt and restrict the government's capabilities. It is up to creative managers to turn this disastrous policy into implementation that least hurts Americans." Stanford lays out some realistic steps that managers can take to succeed in this new reality.

The Senior Executive Association recently discussed the top challenges facing agencies with the 46 winners of the 2012 Presidential Distinguished Ranks Awards. In the article "Invest in the Workforce and Prioritize Programs to Meet Challenges," Jenny Mattingley presents some key issues facing the workplace presented by sequestration. These senior executives talked about meeting the mission with reduced resources, caring and feeding the workforce, and turning problems into opportunities.

"The declining morale and impaired ability to recruit, hire, and retain employees will exacerbate the underlying issue of accomplishing the mission," Stanford writes. "There are regrettably no easy answers or quick fixes."

But, as Mattingley points out in her article, federal agencies need to acknowledge these challenges and find ways to overcome them before many of the problems identified by the Distinguished Rank awardees and other federal employees become a reality.

About the Author

Paula Ketter is ATD's content strategist. Previously, she served as editor of ATD's periodicals.

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