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A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Morale Problems? What Would Your Employees Do?

The White House intruder should be a wake-up call across government. When morale declines, so does performance. The Secret Service fiasco is one case in point. Employees become less attentive, easily distracted, unwilling to exert more than the minimum effort, and a few will act out.

There is no reason to believe the situation will improve much any time soon. The civil service system will continue to impede change. There is little chance the pay gap will be closed. And budget cuts will continue to limit workforce investments.

Despite the impediments, it is possible to improve the work experience and boost morale—and to drive improvement at minimal expense. This is documented in the Partnership for Public Service’s report on the best places to work in government. One agency stands out as an unqualified success—the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which climbed steadily from 172 on the list in 2007 to first on the agency subcomponent list in 2013. The U.S. Mint has a similar story.

Agencies cannot overcome every problem. But two core issues must be emphasized: (1) improved morale contributes to improved performance and (2) this can be accomplished at minimal cost. In fact ...

Americans Prefer Male Bosses, Even though Women are Better for Business

new Gallup poll found that American men and women prefer a male boss to a female one.

Though the popularity of women bosses has improved since the 1950s, it hasn’t changed much in this century. Instead, the number of people who say they prefer men has decreased, and “no preference” has increased over time. In 1953, 66% of respondents said they’d rather work for a man, compared to 5% who wanted to report to a woman. In 2000, 48% said they prefer a man and 22% said they’d prefer a woman. In August of this year, only 33% of respondents said they’d prefer a man, while 20% preferred a woman (with a + 4 percentage point margin of error).

This year, women had stronger preferences for the gender of their bosses than men did; 58% of men said they had no preference, and only 14% said they would prefer a woman.

Whatever the roots of the bias toward male bosses, it doesn’t square with what’s best for business. A 2004 Catalyst study of Fortune 500 companies found that businesses with the highest representation of women on their top management teams experienced a 35% higher ...

Drinking Coffee, for Your Health

In college, when I worked part-time as a barista at a local coffee shop, I would often serve the same customers day in and day out. To the point that, before they’d even say anything, I would know what certain people wanted to order: large skim mocha, medium iced latté (light on the milk), black coffee to go, “with room.” Though they took it in different forms, the customers were all ultimately after caffeine.

A study released last Tuesday by an international consortium of caffeine scholars may help explain why some of these customers visited more often than others. Spearheaded by Marilyn Cornelis, a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health, the team investigated the link between genetics and coffee consumption. By analyzing DNA as well as data on 120,000 adults of European and African-American heritage, the researchers identified eight genetic variants that predispose individuals to seek out and drink caffeine.

“Our results show that people are naturally consuming the amount of coffee that allows them to maintain their optimal level of caffeine” to get that good caffeine feeling without becoming jittery, Cornelis told me. “If we need more, we’re reaching for it.”

Six of ...

Data Is Driving STEM Recruitment

Last week, the Indian Treaty Room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building became a showcase for the Office of Personnel Management’s initiative to attract the best talent in science, technology engineering and math to federal service.

This “Datapalooza” was part of a celebration of the incredible work Federal STEM employees do now, and it was also a look to the future as we work to fulfill the president’s vision of growing a diverse, engaged and talented STEM workforce for the future.

Team leaders at OPM have forged an amazing partnership with employees from across government and from the private sector. The idea was to find ways to use OPM’s valuable data to understand our current STEM workforce and to provide the tools and resources managers need to help them attract and recruit new STEM talent.

This work is so exciting and so important. Let me tell you about just a couple of the projects.

Ray Parr, OPM’s data guru in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, developed a heat map that shows where our STEM applicants are coming from. His map showed us that the four states contributing the most applicants for federal STEM jobs are ...

Bad Meetings Aren't Just Boring

Most meetings don’t manage to accomplish much more than serving as a lengthy update on what people are up to—and as an interruption to their work. According to Nest CEO Tony Fadell, such meetings also come at a substantial cost. He put a very high dollar value on it at a Fast Company conference:

The number seems very high, and might be exaggerated to illustrate a point. But given that the average salary for engineers in the Silicon Valley area can exceed $100,000 and climbs significantly higher with experience—and that Google can afford to pay particularly well—Fadell might not be that far off.

It’s not just the hour or so spent in the meeting itself, and the impact on each team member’s lost productivity: there’s also all of the prep time leading up to the meeting. Frequently, much of that time goes to waste, catching up people that didn’t prepare very well. People who aren’t even at the meeting ...