There are numerous reasons to work for the federal government. A career in the public sector offers employees an opportunity to make a difference while providing competitive benefits like vacation time, retirement and pension plans.
But for every advantage, there are a number of challenges. For instance, the public sector is notorious for what’s known as "red tape"—layers of rules and formalities that prevent things from getting done efficiently. As a result, many employees won’t see their impact right away.
While it’s possible to build a successful career working in government, public sector employees are increasingly fed up with their organizations. The majority are proud of the work they do, but only 38% trust their executive leadership. And only 55% say their organization practices the core values that they preach every day.
The good news? Government HR managers have the opportunity to change the narrative. Here’s how.
Define and Communicate Your Values
Public sector organizations are, by definition, mission-driven. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services supports the well-being of Americans by providing informational resources for disease prevention, offering social services programs to families in need and helping citizens purchase health insurance. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security protects the United States from terrorist attacks and other potential disasters.
It’s important that every member of your organization connects their day-to-day work to these much-larger missions. You can make this happen by explaining your agency’s vision to new hires during onboarding and requiring more tenured staff to complete continuous training sessions. These initiatives will empower employees to go beyond merely understanding these values, like respect, authenticity and sustainability, and actually embody them in their everyday behavior.
Train Employees and Managers on Soft Skills
Because many public sector organizations are focused on improving the quality of life of all American citizens, they tend to look outward when it comes to making a difference. And while these efforts to benefit the community are crucial, government executives must also think about how to foster a better culture internally. This includes helping individual staff members learn new skills, advance in their roles and remain engaged in their work.
One area that’s particularly worth focusing on is the development of soft skills, such as empathy and critical thinking, which are becoming increasingly important for the future of work. More employees today are looking to go beyond job-specific know-how, and for good reason—research shows that soft skills account for 90% of what makes people progress in their careers. These soft skills aren’t only necessary for employees—they also help managers lead better by communicating with empathy and thinking critically. A manager that exhibits these skills is able to gain trust among employees and drive stronger internal communication, allowing their organization to be more successful.
Consider which soft skills your employees may be lacking and rethink your learning and development strategy to concentrate more on those areas.
Build More Collaborative Teams
When it comes to government agencies and organizations, teams tend to be built from the top down. The GS grade level system, which generally determines an employee’s position and pay grade, is more bureaucratic—and less flexible—than the typical hierarchy structures found in the private sector.
Still, organizations can take steps to help workers at every level feel like they have a say in decisions. This might mean implementing secure and compliant technology that encourages employees to collaborate digitally. Maybe it’s even as simple as challenging more junior staff to speak up at team meetings and brainstorms.
Collaboration isn’t just critical for a more engaged workforce—organizations with a culture of collaboration are five times more likely to see high performance metrics.
Ask Employees What They Want
Employee expectations at one organization might be vastly different than another. So, as you take steps to increase engagement, it doesn’t hurt to go right to the source. Request feedback through surveys and in-person sessions to understand where your organization can improve. This approach not only gives you actionable insights, but also shows workers that their concerns are being heard.
No matter your organization’s current goals and initiatives, there should always be room in the budget to invest in your employees. Without an engaged workforce, the government would cease to exist and your organization wouldn’t have the tools and resources to do what it does best: serve the American people.
Learn more about how government agencies can upskill and reskill their people here.
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Empowering Employees by Learning & Development at Amplifon
Learning and development strategies must continue to evolve in the ever-changing world of work. Training and development provide employees with a softer landing into change, and the introduction of digital learning and development platforms allowed employees a smoother transition into a new style of work. Amplifon created a learning and development strategy that is hyper-personalised and skills-focused, allowing their people and their entire organisations to become more agile and adaptable. Amplifon invested not only in learning and development content but also in strengthening the global network and collaboration across geographies and functions, to encourage an equal sense of belonging across the entire organisation. Amplifon created a learning and development strategy that is hyper-personalised and skills-focused, allowing their people and their entire organisations to become more agile and adaptable. Amplifon invested not only in learning and development content but also in strengthening the global network and collaboration across geographies and functions, to encourage an equal sense of belonging across the entire organisation.
The fully integrated virtual learning solution
Today’s workforce is more dispersed than ever before, making the need to learn and communicate across different locations critical to business success. So your organisation needs to support your employees with learning and collaboration capabilities wherever, whenever. With Saba Meeting, you can ensure high quality virtual training and well-connected team interactions. As a fully integrated virtual classroom solution, Saba Meeting helps you create interactive and engaging virtual events with breakout sessions, desktop, split screen and video sharing, collaborative whiteboards, polling, in-session text chat, emoticons, and more.
4 Government Agencies Taking a Page from Startups
Startups are known for giving the power to the people by encouraging their employees to think big and act on their ideas. The government? Not so much. In fact, employee engagement in government is at a four-year low of 56.9 percent, according to Best Places to Work data. In order to compete for the best talent against startups and tech companies, some city and federal governments are taking a page straight from Silicon Valley on ways to engage employees and provide meaningful work. Here, four city and federal groups that are looking to trade bureaucracy for innovation — all in the name of employee engagement. Obama's Digital Startup If the Peace Corps was John F. Kennedy's legacy for public service, perhaps President Obama will be remembered for the US Digital Service. Late last year, Obama's administration launched the USDS after stealthily recruiting some of Silicon Valley's top tech talent (and convincing them to take a pay cut). Their mission? Transform public service delivery in the federal government. The USDS already has over 100 of the top tech minds and is hiring more over the next year and a half to eventually grow to 500. The team acts like a consulting group within the government to help 25 different agencies not only improve, but entirely rethink their IT strategies to ultimately better serve the public through digital services—for instance, upgrading the Veterans Administration's website, so users can access crucial services faster to save time, money and even lives. Minneapolis Turns to Big Data The city of Minneapolis took a deep dive into the world of data with the launch of its Intelligent Operations Platform (IOP), an integrated data analysis platform developed in partnership with IBM. The IOP, which allows employees to share data across departments and perform sophisticated analysis, may not be completely groundbreaking on a purely technical level. But it is treading fresh ground in the world of municipal management. IBM helped Minneapolis develop the platform as part of the company's First-of-a-Kind (FOAK) program, which is also being rolled out in Chicago and Montpellier, France. IBM says the cities should expect to see efficiency gains across various areas, including water and traffic management, but some Minneapolis city employees have already started finding innovative ways to better serve the public, such as tracking bad landlords and modeling the impacts of downtown development. Boston's IT Refresh Despite hosting some of the world's most advanced scientific organizations — not to mention a thriving startup scene — the government of Boston's tech capabilities have been less than cutting-edge. Mayor Martin Walsh is seeking to change that. As part of a wider initiative to upgrade city processes, Walsh created a "Citywide Analytics Team" to act as a central gathering point for information, work across traditional silos and engage city workers around the new tech mantle. One of the team's first tasks was to create a customized dashboard for each city department that deliver real-time data on key departmental functions. City employees say the more efficient, data-driven protocols allow them to better serve citizens and save precious tax dollars. Denver's Peak Academy When Denver's Mayor Michael Hancock took office in 2012, he had a daunting $94 million budget shortfall to deal with, but he also had a morale problem after years of city employee cuts. With the Peak Academy, a city-led training program for employee innovation, Hancock helped tackle both issues. Peak Academy draws its inspiration from Toyota's "Lean Management" theory. The program centers on a voluntary course that teaches city employees how to identify problems in their everyday work and propose effective solutions. The results have been impressive: at least 2,300 employees have taken the course and their ideas, such as speeding up the adoption process for shelter animals and changing postage on city notices, have saved the city $3 million so far. Besides generating practical solutions, which could have otherwise come from consultants or auditors, Peak Academy helps create a valuable boost in employee morale. Even if employees come up with the same ideas as a consultant, one city manager and program graduate told Governing magazine, "You wouldn't have the same buy-in." All photos: Shutterstock