Employee Engagement Matters, Especially in Government

government employees need to be engaged
Employee engagement matters, especially for the public sector. It's why we're especially worried about government employees.

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ElevatePoint is proud to announce that we’re #15 in the top 40 Employee Engagement blog posts from Feedspot. We’re thrilled to be among some of our favorite employee engagement blogs, too. Employee engagement matters to us.

That’s why we’re worried about the U.S. government. Many things strike us about the U.S. government shutdown, but one of the things we’re most worried about is the lack of employee engagement among the public sector before. Adding a crisis — shutdown — to employee engagement doesn’t help.

Why is engagement an issue among government employees?

Employee engagement impacts so much — service, quality, safety, security, and productivity. When you think of what the government is responsible for — food safety, clean air and water, interstate transportation and safety, etc. — a lack of employee engagement can prove fatal. In fact, it’s proven that during the shutdown, we’re less safe and less secure.

Before the shutdown, engagement wasn’t great

But the problem existed before the shutdown. Government employees and contractors were less engaged already.

People come to public service not because of a boosted paycheck or benefits, but because they believe in the work they’re doing. There’s also, typically, stability in a good government job. Meaningful work and fairly compensated are two hallmarks of employee engagement.   

government intranetYet according to CPS HR Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement, only 38% of government employees are engaged. What’s worse, the report breaks down the information by type of government employee:

  • 44% of local government employees are engaged
  • 34% of federal employees are engaged
  • 29% of state employees are engaged

This engagement isn’t highly engaged, either. That means state and federal workers are more disengaged than engaged.

Public-sector employee engagement impacts how citizens feel about the government

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) makes a compelling case for how employee engagement in the public sector promotes government trust. In other words, the more engaged public employees are, the more everyday citizens have trust and faith in government.

Looking at Edelman’s yearly trust index, this theory may have merit. Currently in the U.S., citizens trust their government less. Your political leanings may affect the trust index, but even looking at who you voted for in the 2016 presidential candidates, proves trust in the government is falling. Edelman indicated the U.S. government had its biggest decline since the company began measuring trust.

What are the issues?

Before the shutdown, ATD listed some of the biggest culprits to public-sector disengagement. If you’re n the private sector, these may look familiar: 

  • Leadership and supervisor issues
  • Lack of recognition
  • Inability to manage change
  • Lack of training and development opportunities
  • Unfulfilling work

Employee engagement since the shutdown

One major and obvious issue is that employees aren’t being paid despite showing up and performing their jobs. Worse, employees may not receive back-pay — missed compensation since the shutdown began.

Another obvious issue is how it’s upended employees’ lives right around the holidays. Necessities such as food and shelter are harder to attain. Travel, college for children, and more are probably on hold or are being negotiated. (That of course has a ripple effect across our economy.)

intranets increase engagementUnfortunately, it’s not just pay and basic living expenses though that employees have to deal with. We’ve all seen the news — official government memos suggest workers sell furniture or barter with landlords to pay rent. It’s clear — leaders aren’t stepping up to communicate with transparency or empathy. That may mean that their leadership isn’t assisting them. After all, good communication starts from the top.

Training may also be a problem. Were they ever trained to help their employees handle this or provided templates for communication? Also, just from what’s in the news, change management seems like a problem, too. Are leaders helping to manage change and uncertainty? 

In addition, many employees aren’t receiving the recognition they deserve. Although more citizens are thanking employees (such as TSA agents) for working without pay, other public servants (such as air traffic controllers, FBI agents, tax agents, and more) who are less visible to the public may not be rewarded.

It’s why already, 26 days into the shutdown, turnover among government employees is increasing; government employees are leaving for private sector jobs.  

So, what will be the ramifications on the public’s trust of their government? Safety? Security? Service?

Regaining employee engagement among government employees will take some time. It will also demand employee engagement strategies, including — and perhaps especially — transparent and empathetic communication.

Final thoughts

First of all, if you’re a government employee – thank you. We know it’s been hard. Thank you especially if you’re working without pay or performing extra work because friends and team members are furloughed.

Second, we’re thinking of everyone impacted by the government shutdown. We’d like it resolved quickly and hope the government opens soon. We’d like government employees to get back to the important work that’s done daily, protecting us.

Lastly, when the government does re-open, we hope — of course — employees receive back-pay. We also hope departments take employee engagement seriously. Our continued trust in the government, safety, and security all depend on it.

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