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How to Make Your Government Organization a Better Place to Work

Steve Dobberowsky

Director, Strategy and Value Service, Cornerstone

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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