This week has been designated by Congress as Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW), a time to honor the men and women who work in government each and every day to find solutions to our country’s problems, assist Americans in need, keep us safe and advance our national interests.
For federal leaders, the week offers an opportunity to reach out to employees and let them know their service is appreciated, a seemingly small but important gesture given the current climate of pay and hiring freezes, furloughs and overall uncertainty.
President Obama has already taken this step, issuing a letter praising public servants for “diligently serving without expectation of fanfare” and for being “committed to a cause greater than personal ambition.”
All 15 Cabinet secretaries signed a separate letter, noting that every federal employee, whether appointed agency leaders and ambassadors or air traffic controllers and Social Security claims representatives, are united by a common pledge to “serve and protect our great country.”
“Together we are confronting and overcoming challenges of great importance to the American people,” they wrote. “Whether securing our borders, ensuring the safety of products we buy and the feed we eat, protecting our environment, or caring for our veterans and most vulnerable citizens, government employees are dedicated to serving others and making a difference—sometimes at great risk to their own lives and well-being.”
There are numerous ways for departmental and agency leaders to communicate their gratitude to employees, including sending a simple email letting them know that their hard work and accomplishments are valued.
The theme of PSRW 2013 is “Why I Serve,” so another, more personal, approach might be to send a message about your reasons for serving our country. Most front-line public servants have little, if any, interaction with senior leaders. A sincere expression of your motivation for public service may prove to be inspiring.
Several government leaders were asked about their own motivation for service and how they view their jobs. Jonathan Jarvis, the director of the National Park Service, gave this response:
“My task as the director of the NPS is to use our national parks to engage the public in a dialogue of what it means to be an American, and to inspire a new generation to live up to the mantle we carry for the rest of the world, to be a beacon in the darkness, shedding light on the trials of history and the decisions that guide a nation that is governed by the principles of law, fairness, restraint, and the value of human rights for all. There are few higher callings.”
Comptroller General Gene Dodaro was asked the same question. Dodaro said he became a federal employee “in part because of the chance to do interesting, challenging work at GAO, but also because I felt strongly about the need to do my part in helping improve government. Public service gives you an opportunity to put your talents to work on behalf of our country, and, for me, that’s the ultimate in job satisfaction.”
Besides a personal story, there are other ways to connect with your employees, including sharing testimonials from your organization’s customers (both inside and outside government) thanking your agency for the services or benefits provided.
You could find ways to inform employees about the successes accomplished by your agency for the American public and share information about employees who have made a difference and who have been recognized by outside groups or cited within your organization. Describing some of these stories could be inspiring and motivating.
You should also consider spending some time with your employees during PSRW. Greet your employees as they arrive for work, schedule a town hall meeting or consider delivering personalized handwritten notes.
If you're still looking for inspiration, check out the PSRW website for a full list of events. What are you doing to thank and recognize your employees this week? What inspired you to government service? Please share your stories and post your ideas below. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.