The federal government was closed for more than two weeks and I hope, during that time, all of the exempted agency executives have been spending time thinking about how they will lead their organizations back to “normal.”
Now that the government shutdown has ended, federal leaders will need to re-engage employees who may have spent their furloughs exploring new job options, thinking about retiring or just worrying about the backlog of work and what may lie ahead. Managers also will need to focus on the employees who remained on the job, often dealing with heavier workloads and adverse conditions.
For many of the 2.1 million federal employees, the shutdown has wreaked havoc on personal finances, caused tension in the workplace, set back progress toward missions and has been disheartening, to say the least.
Managers need to step up to the plate, assume responsibility and see it as their job to re-energize and motivate employees, get their input and figure out how to move forward. Senior agency leadership needs to support that effort.
Getting restarted will mean refocusing employees on the mission and helping them move past the uncertainty they have endured for the past several weeks. Below are a few pointers leaders should keep in mind as they take this on:
- Deal with your employees on a personal level and let them know you care. Greet them at the door when they arrive on the first day after the shutdown officially ends. Draft an email that welcomes them back and that lays out the organization’s priorities.
- Be careful, though. Bear in mind that they may be dealing with extra headaches as they return. Work has piled up, their passwords may have expired while they were out and they have missed paychecks. Help them prioritize and make sure there are people that can help them deal with issues that range from technology challenges to personal financial advice.
- Think about your recruiting strategy. The shutdown has offered just one more barrier for young people to consider a career in the public service. That brand damage could take years to repair. Even though new hiring has slowed, you will need to fill open positions. Give thought to the talent you need, how to get to the people with those skills and what makes your organization a great place to work. Start your outreach, and include colleges and universities.
Finally, the shutdown probably shed light on facets of your organization you might not have thought about in a while, such as emergency or contingency communication plans. Take time to mine the lessons learned to be prepare for the next disruption.
While we all hope a government shutdown is a thing of the past, the future sadly remains uncertain.
Lara Shane is Vice President for Research and Communications at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.
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