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As federal agencies continue to manage the lingering effects of the government furlough and shutdown, the fact that job satisfaction among the federal workforce has dropped significantly hardly comes as a surprise. In fact, the results of the recently released U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey – a survey administered before the 16-day October government shutdown – only reaffirmed what federal agency employees, Chief Human Capital Officers and their staffs live with each working day.

The survey reveals that there has been a significant drop in overall federal government agency employee satisfaction, continued decreases in satisfaction with pay, and clear feedback that employees do not feel they have sufficient resources needed to get their jobs done. As a result, fewer federal employees would recommend their agencies as good places to work. OPM Director Katherine Archuleta warns, “without a more predictable and responsible budget situation, we risk losing our most talented employees, as well as hurting our ability to recruit top talent for the future.”

This reality plants those in federal government human resources roles between a rock and a hard place. Budget issues continue, the furlough is still in effect, and significant and needed change seems to be an unrealistic expectation. It’s a complicated mandate, and the need is more critical than ever to retain and recruit top talent.

It’s overwhelming, and individual federal agency HR leaders may feel they have zero ability to keep employees motivated and engaged. But I challenge that assumption. Even within the confines of a status quo that is unlikely to improve, it is possible for federal HR teams to encourage positive change throughout their agencies and prepare for more productive times ahead.

Building Careers

In spite of the negative survey results, there is a silver lining – more than 90 percent of federal employees continue to be willing to put in extra effort, are constantly looking for ways to do their jobs better, and feel their work is important.

These high levels of engagement show that employees feel they are doing more than working a job. They have committed to a career. But is this something that HR acknowledges or supports? Or is the focus only on the job at hand today?

Start to evolve the dialogue with agency employees from their jobs, to their careers. Articulate that they are valued and the agency is committed to their career growth and development, and help them understand future opportunities so they can visualize themselves at the agency for many years to come. In addition to improving morale, this also lays the groundwork for succession planning and filling future leadership vacancies.

Know Your Employees

Although federal HR teams continue to struggle to expand the limited employee training and development opportunities currently available, employees do have occasions to capture new skills and experiences. Skills are obtained through formal training events, project experiences and roles prior to the current agency; it is crucial to understand the intellectual capital of the workforce so it can be effectively applied to meet mission needs.

Look for ways to catalog and document the skills, knowledge and abilities your workforce possesses – both the skills they have, and the things they are looking to learn. From an agency perspective, this helps HR teams evaluate what expertise is needed to support agency missions, and can help align the right employees to the right job. From an employee perspective, this demonstrates a commitment their growth and development, as HR can align employees to appropriate training or mentorship opportunities as they arise.

Foster a Culture of Innovation

According to Nextgov, the OPM survey indicated that just 38 percent of employees believe that creativity and innovation are rewarded. But “innovation” doesn’t solely fall to the agency CIO or the IT department; all employees have something to contribute in terms of how to influence positive change at their agencies, and can offer ideas to create new and creative solutions to the challenges at hand.

How are you facilitating conversations between and among various teams across the agency with different roles and responsibilities? Never underestimate the ideas, inspiration and perspectives that can change from bringing employees together to discuss ideas for new systems and processes to improve productivity, and to generate support for the agency’s mission. Mentoring programs, brown-bag lunches and even informal focus groups are some simple methods to connect employees to start conversation and camaraderie towards building a brighter future and achieving mission success.

I wish it were easier, that we could wave the magic wand to make the necessary improvements and investments. But making some simple and fast changes to how we interact with our employees will go a long way towards broader talent management issues and priorities.