It’s official: the morale of the Federal workforce is the worst it’s been since they first started measuring.  Each year, the Office of Personnel Management conducts the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) across all agencies and departments. The FEVS can be one of the single-greatest pain points for federal leaders. Some are resigned to thinking that much of the government is just doomed to have low morale—but that doesn’t have to be the case. And now it looks like the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is going to work to incorporate those measures in senior executives performance evaluations. Figuring out how to engage your employees and boost your scores is more important than ever. There are a variety of things leaders can do to boost morale (and their FEVS ranking) if they are willing.
1. Monitor Progress Constantly
The FEVS is conducted once a year so progress is made slowly over time. Make sure you are constantly tracking progress with regard to morale and employee engagement. Moreover, to show that you are taking this seriously, make the progress (or lack there of) public knowledge across your organization. Even if things are not progressing as quickly as desired, you will get more insight by having the conversations about why you’re not before the next survey. You should also be willing to solicit feedback about how you’re doing—it may feel uncomfortable but wouldn’t you rather know when you have the ability to do something about it. If you show you’re receptive to feedback, employees will feel like you are willing to change and that you value them enough to seek their input.
2. Give a darn
Nothing demotivates staff more than feeling like their leaders are either not listening or they don’t really care about making things better. To show you do care and you are in fact listening, make yourself available for dialogue. One-on-ones, focus groups, all hands meetings, and supplemental feedback are key to really understanding what is at the root of many morale issues. By the way, for those who don’t give a darn, think about this: low morale has real consequences. The effects of low morale can include decreased productivity, absenteeism, and poor customer service.  Is that the type of organization you want to lead?
3. Embrace life in a fishbowl
When you are a leader, you are living life in a proverbial fishbowl. Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly being observed by everyone around you—your employees see what is going on inside the fishbowl but because they don’t have all the facts it is highly subject to perceptions and assessments. This can often lead to misunderstandings and sometimes ill will and feelings of resentment. Transparency and open communication are vital to fostering a sense of understanding and connection between leadership and worker bees. It is crucial to communicate often about priorities and the decisions you make—after all, it affects more than just you.
4. Show that change is possible
One of the things I’ve heard from many federal leaders about morale is that “things will never really change.” When people say that, I tell them: “You’re right.” When you are predisposed against change, it will not happen. The onus is on Federal leaders to prove that change is not only possible, it’s paramount to the continued vitality of any organization. Don’t focus on the things you cannot control—the Federal budget, your parent organization, etc.—consider what you can influence and spend your time on those things. It’s guaranteed to be a better use of your time.
5. Engage others and share the responsibility
Leaders often feel extreme pressure that the fate of their organization and their staff’s morale rests solely on their shoulders. This leads to a dangerous downward spiral. The leader realizes there is a problem or there’s room for some positive change and embarks on a journey to single-handedly fix it. When the desired results are not achieved, the energy dedicated to positive change then becomes frustration and negativity. To avoid this, don’t just include others in the process of exploring how to boost morale but have them co-create the process. Having others feel ownership for the effort will strengthen the cause greatly and take the weight of the world off your shoulders.
If you’re serious about boosting your organization’s FEVS ranking, enhancing productivity, and just generally making your work environment more positive, there’s no time like the present.