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

Helping Needy Coworkers Can Be Exhausting

Helping your coworkers too often can lead to mental and emotional exhaustion and may even hurt your job performance, a new study suggests.

These depletion effects are especially strong for employees with high “pro-social motivation”—those who care deeply about the welfare of others.

While previous research on helping has focused largely on the effects of the beneficiaries, this is one of the first studies to focus on the helpers.

“Helping co-workers can be draining for the helpers, especially for employees who help a lot,” says Russell Johnson, associate professor of management at Michigan State University. “Somewhat ironically, the draining effects of helping are worse for employees who have high pro-social motivation. When these folks are asked for help, they feel a strong obligation to provide help, which can be especially taxing.”

For a new study, 68 employees in a variety of industries, including finance, engineering, and health care, filled out surveys in the morning and afternoon for 15 consecutive workdays. The surveys measured depletion using a previously established scientific scale and helping through another scale that asks questions such as “Today, I went out of my way to help co-workers who asked for my help with work-related problems.”


Trump’s Harvey Dilemma

A decade ago, my wife and I finally escaped on a long-delayed week away. We picked Bermuda because it had beautiful water, offered cheap off-season prices, and was a short hop. When we settled into our plane seats, we saw lots of other casually dressed tourists. But we were surprised to also see a large number of well-dressed women and men in expensive dresses and suits. They obviously weren’t heading to the beach.

They were flying to Bermuda on business, and in Bermuda business means reinsurance—the insurance companies that insure other insurance companies for mega-losses. Fifteen of the world’s top 50 reinsurance companies are located there. And in Hurricane Harvey’s wake, they’re a mighty nervous bunch. Losses from the storm, some experts are guessing, could total $100 billion, more than Superstorm Sandy.

And that, in turn, is framing two huge policy dilemmas for the Trump administration. The first dilemma is obvious: how the administration will deal with the enormously contentious question of how to pay for Houston’s rebuilding. The legislative battle won’t be easy. Many members of the state’s congressional delegation had opposed aid to the Northeast in the wake of Superstorm...

The Uncomfortable, Powerful Truth Every Manager Realizes After Getting a Promotion

People usually get promotions because of their outstanding achievements and success. But most good leaders realize a strange paradox while climbing the career ladder. As Sarah Thompson, CEO of global advertising firm Droga5, tells the New York Times: “There’s less glory the more senior you get.”

In a “Corner Office” interview with Adam Bryant, Thompson explains that her management philosophy involves directing her energy outward. “You have to constantly be thinking about how you’re going to make the whole team better. To do that, you have to be kind of selfless. It’s not about winning the meeting or feeling that people would be lost without you.”

The inverse relationship between seniority and glory can be uncomfortable for a lot of top performers. After all, studies show that from childhood, the right kind of praise makes us more intelligent, happy, and successful. But good management means caring less about getting credit, and more about giving it. Thompson’s advice represents an essential shift in mindset: What if we viewed promotion as commemorating one’s judgment, rather than one’s ability to execute difficult tasks? In this sense, seniority honors one’s ability to facilitate,not spearhead, success—to...

Is OPM’s Employee Survey a Valuable Tool?

When the 2017 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey was announced in the spring, the Office of Personnel Management promised the results “on a rolling basis starting in August 2017.” That’s when OPM will begin to share data with agencies internally, the agency recently clarified to Government Executive. The public, apparently, will have to wait until the fall for the results. Normally the participation rate is just under 50 percent. This year is likely to be different.

It’s unfortunate that the government relies on a unique survey and a unique format for reporting the survey results. If it relied on the Gallup survey, for example, the comparisons with other employers would be a natural focus. As it is, the only comparisons are with results in prior years.

It’s also unfortunate that government did not in the past link survey results with performance metrics. It may be that those data do exist but are not made public. Gallup and others marketing surveys emphasize that high levels of engagement contribute to better performance. The evidence is solid and confirmed in a growing number of studies—highly engaged employees are more productive. Conversely it follows that performance would deteriorate when engagement scores...

The Federal Managers Who Aren’t Afraid to Take Risks

The common perception is that, as a group, federal managers tend to be risk averse. However, new research based on data from the Office of Personnel Management’s annual federal employee viewpoint survey suggests that’s not exactly the case: Managers in both high-performing and low-performing organizations tend to be risk takers. They probably feel they have little to lose by trying something new. In contrast, it’s managers in stable, middle-of-the-road organizations who tend to be risk averse.

These insights are based on research by Sean and Jill Nicholson-Crotty and Sergio Fernandez in an article appearing in the current issue of Public Administration Review. To reach their conclusions, they applied a “relative risk” model to analyze survey response data from 2011 and 2013. They looked at survey data related to “managerial decisions regarding the encouragement of innovation, empowerment practices, and delegation of decisionmaking authority” to determine the extent to which these practices were used in different organizations across the federal government. The authors judge these management practices as “risky” since the end results cannot be known at the time they are undertaken.

The annual federal employee viewpoint survey generates data on about 28,000 workplaces across the government. The...