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The Federal Coach

Managing stress amid the budget-cutting uncertainty

While the White House and Congress work on a compromise to fund the government for the rest of the year, many federal programs will continue to be kicked around like political footballs, leaving your employees uncertain about the road ahead.

The result? Stress. The anxiety among federal workers will likely increase over the next couple of weeks as the talks continue, yet again.

As federal managers, you first need to care for and champion the people you lead at all levels--from those who have served more than 30 years to those who are newer to government service. It's also more important than ever to consider the example that you're setting for your team in the face of adversity. Your actions are likely to affect your team's stress levels and, ultimately, their performance and health.

Here are a few suggestions to help you manage your team's stress.

Soothe frazzled nerves. As the leader of your team, you're very much like a coach. Are you more like a calm Phil Jackson or an intense Bobby Knight? Whatever your leadership style, you'll want to be more of a zen master than a firebrand when stakes are high. If your team is stressed out, keep them calm and focused on getting the job done.

Focus on the tasks at hand. You don't know whether your programs' budgets will be cut or remain steady, and any attempts to predict the outcome of budget negotiations are not likely to affect your current program's performance. Instead, keep your team focused on making well-informed decisions and delivering results to the American people. While the tense political situation outside the office is distracting, your team needs to pay attention to the important work they do each day.

Solve problems together. In this uncertain environment, it's especially important not to isolate your employees but rather bring them together to solve problems and come up with solutions to agency challenges. By doing so, you're sending a powerful signal that whatever the difficulty--a shutdown, budget cut or hiring freeze--the team can handle adversity by working together.

Redirect your team's stress. If all else fails, direct your team's nervous energy into positive pursuits. I recently came across a group that started the "Shutdown Startup." It operates under the belief that if the government shuts down, thousands of government employees still will want to serve the public. The group helps public employees direct their passion for service to volunteer opportunities, allowing dedicated public servants to continue to serve their communities and the country. Let's hope we don't turn to this group out of necessity, but if you're interested, you can learn more at www.facebook.com/ShutdownStartup.

Encourage your team to recharge. From exercising to reading a good book, sometimes the best strategy for managing stress is to take a break. When your team is feeling stressed, encourage them to recharge. This could include taking a walk around the block, listening to music or having an informal discussion with a colleague. These activities will not only help your employees recharge but will also likely increase their productivity.

I'm eager to share others' advice about managing stress amidst the uncertainty of the next two weeks. If you've been through this before, or have ideas for managing the stress, please post your comments here or email me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

And check back on Wednesday, when I speak with Dr. Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. You can also receive a reminder by following us on Twitter @RPublicService.

By Tom Fox

 |  March 7, 2011; 12:41 PM ET |  Category:  Getting Ahead Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Fed Coach Q&A: Making the sales pitch for working in government | Next: Advancing public-private innovation: Talking with the Rockefeller Foundation's Judith Rodin


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Forgive me for saying this but, gag me. Where I work in DOD, "leadership" is something the senior military folks occasionally talk about. Most of the Goodfellas (aka civilian management) have a good laugh. That is what they do best.

Posted by: fpmorales | March 8, 2011 11:00 PM

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