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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

How Poor Government Communication Strategy Fuels Paranoia

By and large, Americans in 2017 have a fairly negative perception of government. And it’s far worse than it was 20 years ago. The government's failure to adapt its communication approach to reality is only making things worse.

Let's take a look at some data.

A Pew Research Center survey of 1,501 adults age 18 and older nationwide, conducted April 5-11, 2017, asked people to pick the phrase that best describes their feelings about the government: "basically content," "frustrated," or "angry." To enable a comparison of data over time, Pew has repeated this survey annually.

Since 1997, the likelihood of describing oneself as "frustrated" has remained pretty much static, at slightly more than half (55 percent now, 56 percent then). But the likelihood of calling oneself "basically content" with the government is statistically much lower, with 29 percent choosing this word in 1997 versus only 19 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, the level of anger has nearly doubled in 20 years, from 12 percent to 22 percent.

Survey respondents don't trust "the government in Washington to do what is right," and their fondness for "the swamp" is diminishing speedily. In 1997, fully 39 percent said they...

Being a Jerk At Work Doesn’t Pay Off For Long

Bosses who are jerks to their employees may improve their well-being, but only for a little while, new research suggests.

Bullying and belittling employees starts to take its toll on a supervisor’s mental state after about a week, according to the study in the Academy of Management Journal.

“The moral of the story is that although abuse may be helpful and even mentally restorative for supervisors in the short-term, over the long haul it will come back to haunt them,” says coauthor Russell Johnson, associate professor of management at Michigan State University and an expert on workplace psychology.

While numerous studies have documented the negative effects of abusive supervision, some bosses still act like jerks, meaning there must be some sort of benefit or reinforcement for them, Johnson says.

Indeed, the researchers found that supervisors who were abusive felt a sense of recovery because their boorish behavior helped replenish their mental energy and resources. Johnson says it requires mental effort to suppress abusive behavior—which can lead to mental fatigue—but supervisors who act on that impulse “save” the mental energy that would otherwise have been depleted by refraining from abuse.

Johnson and colleagues conducted multiple field experiments on...

Why More Bosses Aren't Talking About Sexual Harassment

Maybe—probably—your office was abuzz this past week with discussions of #MeToo. After the explosive hashtag campaign detonated last weekend, the still-raw revelations of sexual harassment experienced by women everywhere came charging with us into work on Monday, sparking discussion and debate among co-workers.

Maybe—probably—the debriefing took place around literal and proverbial water coolers, in Slack channels and side conversations where colleagues felt bold enough to ask one another what they thought and how they felt. But maybe—probably—there was someone important in your workplace missing from all the dialogue.

Business leaders have become a much braver bunch over the last few years, weighing in on a range of social-justice issues they almost certainly would not have seen fit to involve themselves in, not in a public way anyway, a decade ago. Just since 2015, American corporate executives have openly campaigned against measures that would discriminate against gay people; they’ve signed amicus briefs in court cases involving transgender bathroom bills; they’ve decried gun violence; they’ve denounced Donald Trump; they’ve supported #BlackLivesMatter; they’ve sent memos condemning white nationalism.

And yet, as the world absorbed the sickening details of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein...

Stop Replaying Your Worst Family Dynamics at Work

Whenever a friend complains that her supervisor or colleague reminds her of her manic-depressive mother, or that his direct-report is “exactly like” his overbearing brother, I try not to look alarmed, but it takes effort.

Specifically, the confession calls to mind the experience of watching as a former colleague—someone who had compared our boss to his manipulative mother—fell into a heated argument with said boss over a trivial issue involving a piece of office furniture and was abruptly fired.

Someone else I know spent months finding creative ways to avoid her manager, who was, she said, “essentially the same person” as her psychologically abusive father. “I’ve got to get out,” she’d say almost daily, and often tearfully. After several more months of misery, she did.

This type of situation is probably more common than you think. It’s often challenging for all involved. But psychologists and executive coaches say there are ways to work around, and even with, that monster who reminds you of so-and-so, even when the situation feels like an impasse.

Family happens to everyone

First, you may need to admit to yourself that this problem doesn’t only belong to the hotheads or...

'Burnout' Is Not Only a Personal Problem, It's a Workplace Problem

As “burnout” among workers has gained attention in the popular media, a conventional wisdom has developed around avoiding it. Essentially, the advice is to “take care of yourself.” Be healthy. Be strong. Be resilient. Be smarter about time management. Don’t let the stressors get to you—fight on and overcome them. Tips to “combat burnout” in a recent New York Times article, for instance, focused on individual interventions such as deep breathing, taking breaks, taking time off to recover, and working remotely.

Although certainly everyone can benefit from a healthy lifestyle, regular sleep, and mindful practice, as decades-long burnout researchers and the co-editors of the Burnout Research e-journal, we find the underlying message conveyed by this type of advice to be disturbing, namely that burnout is only a personal problem and “you just have to tolerate stressful workplaces.”

People who experience burnout become chronically exhausted, become cynical and detached from their work, and feel increasingly ineffective on the job. This experience is not simply a sign of personal weakness. In fact, research shows stressors beyond an individual’s control—such as too many demands, unrealistic deadlines, unpredictable schedules, difficult interactions with colleagues or customers, and technology challenges—all contribute...