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Fight for Focus

3 Lessons from The Shutdown
By Derrick Van Mell
Posted on 1/28/2019 1:45 PM

Whatever your political thoughts on The Wall, almost everyone sympathized with 800,000 federal workers during The Shutdown.

What can we learn from this huge managerial event? What are the long-term consequences for them—and for us?

I’ve written elsewhere that great managers are dedicated to their employee’s happiness, that they feel safe, appreciated and proud. Let’s think it through:

Safe?  Do your employees feel physically, psychologically and financially safe? Not getting a paycheck is a punch to the gut no one forgets quickly. Long-term:  Every November, 800,000 federal employees will worry about getting paid in January when holiday bills are due. What’ll happen to retention and recruitment?

Appreciated? Again, I’ll leave the politics to others, but The Shutdown wasn’t about the workers’ performance. Who woudn't think that powerful people don’t value their work. Long-term: But it might well be the country gained an appreciation for the federal employees work because of problems in the national parks, lines at airports and risks to food safety. 

Proud?  Here’s an amazing lesson: Even when they felt unsafe and unappreciated, many of these workers still came to work, because they know their work matters and their co-workers depend on them. Perhaps they see they are, in fact, part of something big and important. Long-term: Crises can build morale. It’s possible morale will actually improve among hundreds of thousands of federal workers because they saw each other stick to their posts. I know I’m grateful.

The danger: If federal job candidates steer clear of this work, it could feed a downward spiral of talent, management and dedication—which could make it easier to shut down again.

Your challenge: Take 10 minutes to think about what you’d do to reengage these 800,000 workers.  It might spark ideas to use with the people reporting to you.


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