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

The Silent Killer of Workplace Happiness, Productivity, and Health is a Lack of Basic Civility

More than ever before, people are feeling disrespected at work. Employees, like some at Uber, feel they’re working in a toxic culture with insensitive managers. Others complain about being treated disrespectfully based on gender, race, or religion. Some employees receive rude, stinging emails like those emails from The Walking Dead’s Frank Darabont.

What are the costs of employees feeling disrespected? Over the past 20 years, I have researched this question. I’ve polled tens of thousands of workers worldwide about how they’re treated at work. Nearly half of those surveyed in 1998 reported they were treated rudely at least once a month, which rose to 55% in 2011 and 62% in 2016. Though the toll is sometimes hidden, the costs of incivility are tremendous.

Of the nearly 800 managers and employees across 17 industries Christine Pearson of the Thunderbird School of Global Management and I polled, those who didn’t feel respected performed worse. Forty-seven percent of those who were treated poorly intentionally decreased the time spent at work, and 38% said they deliberately decreased the quality of their work. Sixty-six percent reported their performance declined and 78% said their commitment to the organization had declined.


No, the Government Doesn't Have a Problem With Murderers Getting Security Clearances

As someone who has been writing broadly about the defense industry, and specifically about hiring practices for individuals with security clearances, there’s a recurring theme to the challenges—the government struggles to attract and retain individuals in national security careers.

Congressional panels have convened to analyze the issue. Legislation has been proposed. Policies have been changed to address things from pay to telework. But a recent comment by the Director of the Defense Security Service highlights an issue that may be more salient to the government’s hiring issues—employees are sick of being kicked in the pants by their leadership. Publications, including Government Executive, reported the comments last week:

“I’ve got murderers who have access to classified information. I have rapists. I have pedophiles. I have people involved in child porn,” said Defense Security Service Director Daniel Payne, speaking before an audience at this week’s Intelligence and National Security Alliance symposium. “This is the risk we are taking.”

If you’re struggling to attract individuals into the workforce, this probably isn’t going to help. It’s also misleading.

Look at the Policy

Payne’s comment was made in the course of a discussion about the...

The Dark Side of Networking

In 2012, Katherine Milkman, a professor at Wharton who studies judgment and decision-making, co-authored a study that sought to determine the role of race and gender in professional advancement. In order to do that, Milkman and her colleagues used 20 names that might be associated with a particular race or gender and assigned them to fictional prospective doctoral students. The researchers used those names to send identical emails to more than 6,000 professors asking to discuss their research and doctoral programs. The responses varied significantly based on the presumed race of the fictional candidate, and the study helped spark a public conversation about discrimination in academia. 

Since then Milkman has continued to study the ways people make decisions, and how those processes can be altered to promote equality. Her work has also prioritized exploring the kinds of biased decision-making that leads to the underrepresentation of people of color and women that plagues many professional fields.  

I spoke to Milkman for The Atlantic’s series on mentorship, “On The Shoulders Of Giants,” about her research, and the counterintuitive ways that everyday networking can harm women and minorities. The interview that follows has been edited for length and clarity.


Wanted: Competent Management

Federal agencies are finalizing their grand reform plans and four-year strategic plans to submit to the White House Office of Management and Budget this week, but it’s worthwhile to stand back and look at whether they’re doing the basics right.

A team of researchers led by Raffaella Sadun, Nicholas Bloom and John Van Reenen has done just this in a new article in the Harvard Business Review. While their focus was on the private sector, their lessons apply in government as well, including this bedrock observation: “Core management practices can’t be taken for granted.”

Their research confirms quantitatively that: “Firms with strong managerial processes perform significantly better on high-level metrics such as productivity, profitability, growth, and longevity.”  However, they also found that competent management is not easy to replicate. It takes effort, and significant and enduring investments in people and processes.

Over the past decade, the researchers identified a handful of 18 key management practices that seem to be critical to operational excellence, such as setting clear goals and metrics, and choosing the right targets to pursue. They grouped these practices into four areas: operations management, performance monitoring, target setting, and talent management. Statistically, they learned that...

There’s a Crisis of Meaning in Government Service

So many people feel disconnected from their workplace today. Something is missing, they are stressed, unsure of how they fit into the organization’s purpose, irritated by their coworkers’ lack of empathy and trust. They feel they have little control over their work, and are especially frustrated by the “political” whims of their leaders.

Many leaders attempt to address these issues with new programs, such as flextime, incentives, offsite events, and special perks, yet the level of worker satisfaction remains stubbornly low.

It’s time to take a new approach and get to the root cause of these workplace issues: When people feel disconnected from others in the workplace or feel they don’t belong, it’s because there is a lack of meaning. When they lack purpose in their day-to-day tasks, it’s because there is a lack of meaning. When they don’t understand how their work matters to the mission of their organization, it’s because of a lack of meaning. When they feel overwhelmed and drained of energy at the end of the day, it’s because of a lack of meaning.

These are intrinsic, not extrinsic, issues and must be dealt with accordingly. They must...