Federal managers can improve relationships with their employees through more open communication and offering workplace flexibility options like telework, speakers told supervisors Tuesday at a convention in Northern Virginia.
Officials from across government addressed the Federal Managers Association, speaking on the importance of leadership to maximize employee productivity and implement changes that front-line workers want to see. Managers must not only reach out to their staff to identify problems, speakers said, but also circle back to tell employees their concerns have been addressed.
Efforts to improve relationships with the workforce should be qualitative and involve open dialogue, but also quantitative by using data from the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, officials said.
Using this data allows managers to “execute on a plan and pay attention,” said Jody Hudson, deputy chief human capital officer at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “What you pay attention to gets done.”
Mary Bohman, administrator of the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service, acknowledged the budget constraints on agencies, but emphasized there is “no free lunch” when attempting to improve employee engagement.
“You can’t make change without putting in more dollars,” Bohman said, adding her agency hired outside consultants to diagnose and fix problems. Agencies must invest in training and “improvements to the work environment,” she said.
One way to improve the workplace is to move it into employees’ homes.
Telework is becoming “less and less of a soft benefit and more of a strategic imperative,” said Mika Cross, program manager for work/life and wellness at the Agriculture Department.
Cross said USDA has worked aggressively to boost telework at the agency, and now in any given pay period about 30 percent of employees telework at least one day. She called on managers to “lead by example” by teleworking themselves.
Working from home allows for less continuity disruption, Cross said, and can lead to a high return on investment for agencies. She added young people currently do not want to work in federal service, but options like telework could help make the career path a more attractive option.
“In order to be a modern effective, workplace, Cross said, “federal government has to do business differently.”
Another important element of maintaining high employee morale should include strong labor-management relations, according to Frederick Steckler, chief administrative officer at the Patent and Trademark Office. When that relationship is sour, it creates a “cloud that hangs over the organization,” but when it improves, it creates a “ray of sunshine,” Steckler said.