3 ways to address federal employee morale—now.

3 ways to address federal employee morale—now.

By Matt Arozian

According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), “Federal employees’ satisfaction with their jobs, pay and organizations are areas of continued risk.” In its 2012 Employee Viewpoint Survey, released last week, OPM reports that federal employees continue to believe that their work is important and are willing to contribute extra effort. But steady trends of improvement in job satisfaction and morale have reversed. Scores dropped on every index, with several declining significantly.

The report speculates about the reasons for the drop: current environment of salary freezes, threats of shutdowns, continued tight budgets and public opinion of government work. The report goes on to say that effective solutions may be hard to find.

That may be true for complex, mission-related factors, but here are three things agencies can do right now to address federal employees’ concerns about their jobs and work:

1. Communicate early and often: Many of the issues above are related to uncertainty. Agencies can’t communicate what they don’t know and can’t control. So they must communicate what they do know, as clearly and as frequently as possible. Make sure employees understand what’s going on, what scenarios are being considered, how contingency plans are shaping up. At the very least, that will help ensure they’re worrying (and working to address) real possibilities, not unfounded rumors.

2. Emphasize employee recognition in uncertain times: Employees are still working hard to fulfill the mission. That means they must be doing things worth recognizing—and the cost of that recognition is largely free. The key is to recognize the simple, small things employees do every day that add up to significant mission performance, not just outstanding heroics. For example, why not thank the employee who makes the coffee most of the time as well as the one who worked extra hard to finish a report? Both contribute to the mission success in their own ways.

3. Make sure employees really do understand the goals of the organization: Ratings for Results-Oriented, Performance Culture ranged from a low of 46% to a high of 66% with a 52% average across all agencies. That means only about half believe their organization is focused on results. An immediate and obvious question is, “Do employees actually know what those results should be?” The first step is to clearly communicate the objectives of the organization. Next, make sure employees know how they’re progressing toward those goals. When mid-course corrections are needed (at any level of the organization), make sure employees understand what must change and why.

Agencies can improve morale by communicating two things: “what” and “why.” What might happen, what will happen, what is happening and why that’s so. Comprehensive answers to complicated operational questions will take time. But frequent, honest communications can have an impact in no time at all.  For more coverage on the survey, go to    

Image courtesy Flickr user Vicktor1558.












About Matt Arozian

VP of Strategic and Creative Services specializing in messaging

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