Once shutdown ends, employee morale slump likely awaits

Friday - 10/11/2013, 12:09pm EDT

Tim McManus - vice president for education and outreach, Partnership for Public Service

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Virginia Hill - president, Young Government Leaders

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For every day that the government shutdown drags on, federal managers face a potentially growing morale crisis in the federal-employee ranks.

"We've now been almost two weeks into a government shutdown," said Tim McManus, vice president for education and outreach at the Partnership for Public Service, in an interview on In Depth with Francis Rose. "When employees come back, how do we again position ourselves as: 'This is a great place to work. You want to stay here. You want to continue to give your time, your talents and your efforts to this agency and to government.'"

In the initial days of the shutdown, some 800,000 federal employees were told to stay home indefinitely without pay.

That number has shifted downward in recent days, however. The Defense Department recalled most of its furloughed civilian workforce thanks to a last-minute law passed by Congress. A few other agencies, such as FEMA, have recalled their furloughed employees because of emergency situations.

But with no end to the shutdown in sight, it's becoming increasingly likely that no federal employee — regardless of furlough status — will be paid on time.

For younger feds, who have only recently joined government service, the uncertainty of the shutdown, financial and otherwise, is particularly damaging.

"Financially, this is very hard on them," said Virginia Hill, president of the group, Young Government Leaders. "There's the obvious low morale, and the feeling of being out of touch and out of control. And when you're starting your career in government, it's an especially negative impression that it's really hard for managers to combat."

Despite the circumstances, feds are taking it in stride, she said.

"Right now, we're at the point where we are trying to make the best of the situation, given that it is out of our control," Hill said. "I think many people will, in the long run, see this as a minor setback in their careers, will realize that it's not under our control and we didn't cause it. So, how do you make the best of it?"

Hill's group, which represents about 5,000 members, volunteered at the D.C. Central Kitchen food pantry this week in an effort to recommit toward public service.

"At this point, most people ... have run all those errands they've been putting off, they've cleaned their apartments spotlessly clean and, now, we're moving on to making sure we can keep our commitment to serve even when we're not able to work," Hill said.

For federal managers, returning from the shutdown will offer them the opportunity to refocus on the "federal brand," the set of ideals and sense of mission that the federal government is uniquely suited to offer employees, McManus said.

But government leaders will clearly face an uphill battle on that front.

"The case to brand yourself as an employer of choice becomes a lot more difficult when you put into the equation furloughs, government shutdown, reduced benefits or greater payment for benefits, salary freezes — the list goes on and on and on," McManus said.

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