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The Federal Coach

Keeping employees during the federal ice age

Federal managers are facing what some have called the "ice age," the era of pay and hiring freezes that could have a significant effect on the government workforce.

Like many federal managers, I was in Washington during the last "ice age" and its affects were detrimental. Another hiring freeze would likely leave critical positions unfilled, result in increased staff workload, create a loss of institutional knowledge and make it more difficult to accomplish agency missions.

Keeping your skilled and experienced employees on the job will be more important than ever.

Last week my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, released a report with Booz Allen Hamilton focusing on short-term steps that you can take to keep your best employees motivated and on the job, and longer-term policies that you should consider to create a stable and productive workforce.

In the broad sense, managers must focus on creating a healthy work environment to retain top performers. This includes creating good relationships between supervisors and their staffs and a sense of teamwork; having a strong agency mission and employee skill matches; providing for employee development and support; and creating a strong performance management culture combined with a good work/life balance.

Each aspect is important, but the different elements collectively can create enhanced employee satisfaction, better engagement and longevity on the job for those that you want to keep.

Here are some suggestions that you may want to consider to help keep your high-quality employees on board, and there are dozens more in the report:

Recognize achievement. Strengthen performance appraisals, recognizing accomplishments and providing meaningful feedback to employees. When possible, provide performance-based awards, emphasize individual development plans to encourage and support employee growth, and offer leadership training to the promising employees.

Provide incentives. If feasible, offer retention bonuses to valued employees who have job offers and are considering leaving. But before your employees even think of leaving, consider using flexible work arrangements such as telework, customized schedules and hoteling to create a positive work climate. And don't forget to make use of the federal student loan repayment program and tuition reimbursement for job-relevant training to help retain younger employees.

Conduct "stay" interviews. Solicit current employees' opinions about what they want out of their jobs and what is missing. The most effective interviews are conducted one on one between a senior leader and the employee. It is important that these interviews are kept confidential and that they result in action.

Strengthen lines of sight between the mission and the employees. Smart agency leaders keep employees aware of and focused on the importance of what they do and how it relates to the agency's mission. Clear measures of success and progress toward meeting goals helps keep employees up-to-date on the impact of what they do.

Federal leaders, how are you retaining your high-performing employees? What suggestions do you have for keeping them on board? If you're interested in learning more about our research, please visit ourpublicservice.org.

Also, please share your ideas by posting a comment online or sending an email to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org. And check back on Wednesday, when I speak with the commissioner of Internal Revenue, Douglas H. Shulman. You can also receive a reminder by following us on Twitter @RPublicService.

Government leaders, nominate your outstanding federal employees for the tenth annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal (Sammies)! Considered the "Oscars of Washington," the Sammies are the most prestigious awards honoring our nation's public servants. Nominations are accepted at servicetoamericamedals.org through January 31, 2011.

By Tom Fox

 |  January 24, 2011; 8:35 AM ET |  Category:  Getting Ahead Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Ask the FedCoach: Stuck between appointees and career leaders? | Next: 'I'm like a mayor of a medium-sized city': An interview with IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman


Please email us to report offensive comments.

You're assuming that all federal managers are actually leaders. Too many managers have too little experience or training to become effective leaders.

Posted by: pwkickice | January 28, 2011 1:01 PM

Yes well, the last thing they're thinking about it how to retain employees. We just got a memo asking how many of us would like to start bailing so they can get around to cutting their budget. I suspect they're going to start the disincentive program any time now.....

Posted by: hcpf | January 28, 2011 12:39 PM

Management is too busy covering their own butt & counting the days til they can retire to worry about keeping the good Feds. "The little people." It's all about management & giving them their daily nap time. Keep the calls/problems/issues away! They don't want to know unless the boss above them collars them in the hallway or fires them a hot email. Wake the manager when it's lunchtime is & bring them a cup of coffee.

Posted by: TaxiDriver | January 28, 2011 12:09 PM

How can I get this article in front of the bosses??? Nice in theory. Will it happen? mehhh, not so sure that the bosses are so worried about retension as much as they should be.

Posted by: RRRRRRRR1 | January 28, 2011 9:19 AM

better question yet...
have they removed political appointees or cronies from their payrolls...

Posted by: DwightCollins | January 28, 2011 7:25 AM

These all sound like wonderful ideas. Now, can someone please pass them along to the management of the Department of Justice and certain U.S. Attorney's Offices on the west coast where retention of dedicated, highly-skilled, and long-term high achievers is considered a nuisance, assuming it is even given any thought?

Posted by: pookiecat | January 27, 2011 5:10 PM

The federal managers I know would scratch their heads at this essay. "Recognize achievement?" "Provide incentives?" What is this guy talking about?

Institutional knowledge is the last thing that any federal manager wants to keep around. People who know how things work are dangerous enemies to people with dumb ideas but lots of ambition.

So here's the real federal manager advice: Now is the time to pile up the worst possible work on the mid-timers and old-timers. Make their lives hell. Get them to quit or retire. With them out of the way, nobody will challenge your idiotic ideas.

Posted by: karlmarx2 | January 27, 2011 2:54 PM

So lets tell it how really things stand these days. And us people on SS. to pay these things. There are only 12 months in a year. And with home taxes,and $500 fuel bill each month in the winter time.

Posted by: moonlightstar | January 27, 2011 1:21 PM

Also i would like to comment on this percent on loans. What about having to pay over 17% on a car loan? And with supposedly getting a good credit score of paying on one for 4 years befor that without even being late?

Posted by: moonlightstar | January 27, 2011 1:16 PM

It certainly would if the workers of the USA cought up somewhat to pay for all these higher bills and merchantdise. It just cost me well over $900. just to replace my heater control in the car so i wouldent freeze to death.

Posted by: moonlightstar | January 27, 2011 1:06 PM

What about all the thousands of dollars that were sent to scammers in the past years? This also suplize terrorst one way or the other. The FEDs. alway say they don't have the man power in the past. Us citizens took a big pay cut since the 80's. and never recovered to pay all the outstandng repairs and bills of today. Don't you think they could stand just a tiny bit of a cut now?

Posted by: moonlightstar | January 27, 2011 12:39 PM

"Just a few comments for this poor dear unappreciated bureaucrat. "

Instead of calling them "bureaucrats", why don't you call them by their proper professions: doctors, nurses, police officers, regulators, border patrol agents, food safety inspectors, FBI agents, air traffic controllers, etc.

You talk like the government worker just pushes paper. They run your aiports, inspect your food, build your highways, fund your kid's educations, defend your borders. The 2nd largest Department is the Veterans Affairs, of which half are medical staff for VA. Do you want 20% of the doctors to quit and go into private practice, or do you just think veterans don't deserve adequate health care?

The next time you visciously attack Federal workers, stop to think what they do for you, or the next time you decide to take a flight it might not take off.

Posted by: AxelDC | January 27, 2011 12:14 PM

Bricks without straw approach to management.

Posted by: AxelDC | January 27, 2011 12:09 PM

Please refrain from using the government invented internet in the future

ust a few comments for this poor dear unappreciated bureaucrat.
1. We don't think any job in the gov is critical
2. We want a loss of institutional memory
3. We want less government and less spending. No more studies on how to keep anyone working for the government. No freeze on hiring. Let's start by firing 10% of the federal workforce and hope that this ruins worker morale motivating another 10% to resign or retire.

Posted by: 4noone | January 26, 2011 8:21 AM

Posted by: Island_Boy | January 26, 2011 1:23 PM

Just a few comments for this poor dear unappreciated bureaucrat.
1. We don't think any job in the gov is critical
2. We want a loss of institutional memory
3. We want less government and less spending. No more studies on how to keep anyone working for the government. No freeze on hiring. Let's start by firing 10% of the federal workforce and hope that this ruins worker morale motivating another 10% to resign or retire.

Posted by: 4noone | January 26, 2011 8:21 AM

The chance of my management implementing even one of these very good ideas is less than the chance that my Labrador Retriever will suddenly start speaking in Attic Greek.

Sigh. And we're bleeding good people too.

Posted by: econgrrl | January 25, 2011 12:02 PM

I just wanted to THANK YOU so much for find 3.17% Rate. You were great! The closing went really smoothly on my Mortgage Refinance. As in the past, I'll continue to tell everyone about 123 Mortgage Refinance

Posted by: gloverjody | January 25, 2011 5:50 AM

Its "effects" were detrimental, not "affects."

Posted by: AdventurerVA | January 24, 2011 11:05 PM

Dear Managers,

Don't take two months to process grade increases. Timely promotions improve morale.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | January 24, 2011 1:36 PM

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