How to manage amidst pay freeze fears

Wednesday - 12/1/2010, 4:21pm EST

Tom Fox, Director, Center for Government Leadership at the Partnership for Public Service

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The future of federal pay is uncertain after Monday's announcement by President Obama calling for a two-year pay freeze for federal civilian employees.

Amidst the fear, managers have an even greater responsibility to communicate with their workforce, said Tom Fox, director of the Center for Government Leadership at the Partnership for Public Service.

Managers must bring a "personal touch" to communications, Fox told the DorobekINSIDER.

Email alone cannot suffice, he said. Fox suggested that managers use every opportunity -- all-staff meetings, an office walk-around -- to find out how employees are feeling.

"The most important thing for a leader to do in these agencies is to think about, How can I put the facts out there to separate it out from the fiction to make sure folks can really focus on the mission of our organization," Fox said.

If a manager does not have the answer, it is OK to say, "I don't know," Fox said.

As information is still being released about the possible pay freeze, Fox said managers should actively seek out information from the agency's website, as well as the websites of the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget.

The communications is a "two-way" dialogue. Managers can also use the economic situation to solicit feedback and ideas from employees. For example, OMB hosts a SAVE Award for cost-cutting ideas.

By asking for employees' ideas, "it gives a sense of solidarity, to say we're not simply going to make rash cuts in response to whatever guidance we receive from OMB," Fox said. "rather, we're really going to work together to make the smartest, most effective cuts so we don't threaten the mission."

Managers should not forget that the announcement of a possible pay freeze has a "personal and emotional" impact on workers.

"We're a package when we come to work. We're not only an employee, we're also a person," Fox said. "Better understanding those issues will show leaders the best way to motivate and inspire the very best performance they can get from their folks."

Fox offers management tips his column in The Washington Post.

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