Only 4 out of 10 federal employees believe they’re rewarded for good work

July 16, 2013

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The stars of Major League Baseball – including our very own Bryce Harper and Jordan Zimmermann of the Washington Nationals – join the mid-season All-Star game on Tuesday.

It is a game relished by the players. For men who grew up with dreams of one day playing in the big leagues, the recognition of being among the very best often means as much as their other rewards.

Federal managers facing the squeeze of pay freezes, budget reductions and furloughs may want to take note.

As part of a recent analysis of 2012 "Best Places to Work in the Federal Government" data, the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte examined federal employee satisfaction with performance-based rewards and advancement in their agencies and it appears that recognition is in short supply.

Out of 10 workplace categories examined, workers rated performance-based rewards and advancement last, as they have since 2005. In 2012, federal workers gave a score of only 43.4 points on a scale of 100. This means that only four out of 10 employees believed that they will be rewarded for doing good work.

Federal managers, what’s your version of the All-Star game?

With pay largely outside of your direct control, you need to find other ways to motivate workers and reward good performance. This can involve helping your employees identify better jobs in the organization, ensuring promotions are based on merit, providing training opportunities that can lead to advancement, giving individuals new opportunities to excel and offering recognition for doing a good job. Here are some additional low- or no-cost options to consider:

  • Develop your prospects into all-stars by supporting their career development. All-stars, even Bryce Harper, are made not born. Even while enduring a string of losing seasons, the Nationals worked hard to find good talent and cultivate their abilities and skills. Agencies may be facing lean times, but creative leaders can still find ways to develop their people. You might assign work that plays to an individual’s strengths, providing a greater opportunity for success and personal satisfaction. Use in-house training provided by other employees as a means of helping others reach their full potential. Offer your employees more opportunities to participate in cross-functional projects, rotations or developmental assignments between units or in more interesting and challenging tasks. You might even expose employees to new roles by taking them to senior leadership meetings and bringing them face-to face with top executives.
  • Be honest about what it will take to make the big leagues. In an effort to be kind, sometimes leaders avoid having hard conversations, even with high-performing employees. That’s not the case in major league sports where the opportunities are few and far between. As a federal leader, you may need to clarify expectations among your employees, even your stars. To help them better understand the job advancement and selection process, provide realistic feedback on their potential for promotion and areas to improve. If promotional opportunities are limited, let deserving employees know that you are willing to help them find opportunities outside of the organization – and then follow through. When there is an opportunity available, be clear what the organization is looking for in competitive candidates and, after a selection is made, offer to talk to unsuccessful candidates about why they were not selected.
  • Look for ways to enhance the all-star experience with other perks. The word on the street is that Bryce Harper is as excited about being an all-star as he is about being a Home Run Derby pick. While some teams prevent their players from participating in such events, the Nationals realize the net gain for Harper and the team. Even during tough times, federal jobs are remarkable, and leaders can make them even more so. Make available benefits other than increased pay or bonuses such as telework, alternative work schedules or time-off awards to recognize deserving employees. Acknowledge the work your employees accomplish through verbal praise after projects are completed, or thank them with handwritten notes when they put in extra effort and time to get the job done. Personally check-in regularly with your team members to understand their jobs, their challenges, and to get to know them.

These are just a few suggestions that may help motivate employees and let them know they are appreciated when a pay increase is just not in the offing. What is you agency doing to reward high-performing employees? Please share your strategies by posting your ideas below, or email me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He also heads the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.

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