Tips for managing morale

Tuesday - 3/8/2011, 10:08am EST

Carol Bonosaro, president, Senior Executives Association

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

The continuing resolution won't expire until March 18th, but Federal News Radio has been hearing from a number of managers and federal employees about how the threat of a shutdown and possible furloughs is impacting morale across the federal government.

A shutdown is never good for morale, said Carol Bonosaro, the president of the Senior Executives Association, "and would be especially bad in these challenging times when feds are expected to do more and more, often with less and less."

So, as the possibility of a shutdown hangs over the federal workspace, managers are trying to determine who is "essential", keep morale up and maintain the continuity of operations until a solid budget is in place.

Worse, Bonosaro told Federal News Radio, they have to keep their own morale up and not let it get to them that "the time devoted to determining who is essential and planning the shutdown is all lost productivity."

Everyone's morale, said Bonosaro, "is affected even if there's no shutdown because it's the continuous threat of that shutdown hanging over everyone's head."

Looking back on the shutdowns of '95 and '96, managers can expect the big problem to be explaining who is "essential" and who is not and that they can't legally work. Part of the problem, said Bonosaro, is the emotional baggage that comes with just the word "essential."

Asked for alternatives, she paused before offering "perhaps 'critical' versus 'non-critical'?" and chuckles.

"There's another issue too that i think executive managers have to deal with. For some of their employees, if there is a shutdown, going without salary certainly can be a real hardship, especially for lower paid employees who may not have a nest egg to fall back on." Especially, said Bonosaro, since there are no guarantees back pay would be forthcoming.

It takes a deft leader to make sure employees understand what might lay ahead without sending anyone into a panic. "Well, that is the challenge, isn't it," agreed Bonosaro, "and it is a challenge because for a lot of the employees the worries are indeed very real."

While doing research for her own preparation for a possible shutdown, Bonosaro said she talked with some in the Senior Executive Service about their experiences from fifteen years ago. She said one exec told her "the lasting impact for him of the shutdowns is that it cemented his personal cynicism regarding the workings of Congress, shattering, quote, 'whatever little remaining faith' he had that rational outcomes were ever likely to issue from that body. It was a real dilemma for managers and executives who were having to make very tough decisions and who were seeing the impact, not only on the employees for reasons I've suggested, but also the fact that the productivity was lost. It just seemed like such a waste of time in the end."

The bottom line advice Bonosaro offered for execs and managers is "to be sensitive to the kinds of concerns that their employees have, to share as much information as is possible, and very often there isn't very much and it's very uncertain. I mean that's the difficulty of managing with continuing resolutions."

For more on that aspect, we talked with John Palguta with the Partnership for Public Service. You can read that interview here: Palguta: Morale a hidden cost in CRs

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