As a government shutdown looms, there's a great deal of anxiety over the uncertainty of what will happen. As a federal manager, you can't control the unfolding events external to your agency, and you no doubt have your hands full planning how to handle a possible shutdown. At the same time, you must deal with your employee’s concerns and fears, and provide information to help alleviate the stress as much as possible.
While the situation is demoralizing for all concerned, there are some common sense steps you can take to help your employees during this time. Here are a few suggestions:
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Although we won't know the outcome until the last minute, it’s important that you provide as much information to your employees as you can about what will happen in the event of a shutdown. Lay out what work will continue, what will fall by the wayside, the roles of those who will keep working, and how you'll communicate with those sent home on furlough. If you simply don’t know something, that doesn't mean you should stay silent. Tell employees that you will try to get the information and then follow through.
Focus on the tasks at hand. While the political fight and its potential consequences are obviously distracting, remind your team about the importance of the work they do each day. Even if there is a shutdown, it will be temporary. Government will re-open and the American public will still want and need the services that government provides.
Remember that it’s not all about you. Yes, your job as a manager is to keep employees engaged and to get the job done, but you need to remember that employees have lives and responsibilities outside of the job that may be significantly and negatively affected by a furlough or shutdown. Make it clear that if someone is having difficulty controlling their anxiety due to worries about meeting financial obligations or providing for the needs of a loved one, there may an employee assistance program available or some other way to help. Sometimes just knowing that someone cares helps a lot.
Solve problems together. In this uncertain environment, it’s especially important not to isolate your employees. Hold team meetings to discuss the current situation, answer any questions that arise as best you can, and also ask for ideas and suggestions for coping. A good team can handle adversity better by working together.
Be on the lookout for frazzled nerves. As the leader of your team, don’t wait for your employees to come to you. It's okay to reach out to individual employees to reassure them, hear their concerns and provide whatever advice or help you can.
If you’ve been through a government shutdown before and have ideas for managing the stress, please post your comments here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.