The Washington Post

Ideas for how federal leaders can mark Public Service Recognition Week

As a federal leader, you have an opportunity to let your employees know that you appreciate them and their work as we celebrate Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW), May 6 through 12.

It’s especially important this year to recognize your employees given the current climate — morale is down because of the recent government scandals and congressional efforts to cut employee compensation.

Set aside by Congress to honor the men and women who serve our nation as government employees, PSRW is a time to honor public servants working each and every day to find solutions to our country’s problems, assist Americans in need, keep us safe and advance national interests.

All 15 Cabinet secretaries for the first time have signed an open letter letting federal employees know that they are valued and that their work is important — a message I hope resonates throughout the government.

“[Public servants] make our country stronger and they make a difference in the world. Yet, it is rare that they are publicly thanked for the work they do, every day, to serve their fellow Americans. This week, we would like to call attention to those public servants who help make life better in our communities, the nation and around the world. It is our pleasure and honor to serve with them,” they said.

To kick off PSRW at your agency, send a thank you letter to your employees via the agency’s intra-agency email system, or consider delivering personalized handwritten notes. Include mention of PSRW in staff meetings and personally thank your employees for their service.

Here are some additional ways managers can show their appreciation:  

Pictures are worth a thousand words. Post photos of successes in accomplishing your mission. It could be pictures of wounded veterans healed in a VA facility; assistance provided to people in need after a natural disaster; a forest reclaimed after a forest fire; a major drug interdiction; people receiving needed medical care because of Medicare or Medicaid; or children receiving educational assistance. This is a very effective way to remind your employees that what they do really matters.

Share comments from your customers. Nothing is more satisfying than hearing right from the people who have benefited from your services. Share testimonials from your organization’s “customers,” both inside and outside government, thanking your agency for the services or benefits provided. A number of notes have likely been received over the last year, but not widely circulated, so share them! You could also display your favorite letters from satisfied customers on monitors in your facility like Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks plans to do at the Government Printing Office.

Remind employees of the good outcomes. Recount the successes accomplished by your agency for the American public as a way of reminding employees that they should be proud of what they are doing for the country.

Share news of your agency’s stars. Every agency has its acknowledged “stars” – award-winning employees who have made a real difference. Share information about these federal standouts with your employees, both those that have been recognized by outside groups and cited within your agency. As a start, look at the recipients of the Presidential Rank Awards and Service to America Medal finalists recently announced. This week, U.S. Trade and Development Agency Director Leocadia Zak will highlight the efforts of staff who were awarded the Outstanding Achievement and Innovation awards earlier this year for their contributions to enhancing the effectiveness of the agency. The Federal Executive Boards will be presenting awards to outstanding federal employees across the country from Cleveland to Albuquerque to San Francisco.

Search for additional agency stars. Ask your employees to share examples of how individuals or teams have exceeded expectations in accomplishing the mission, and let them know that the best of these success stories will be shared internally and externally.

There are other options as well. Consider having agency leaders and other senior officials shake hands with employees as they come to work, select an Employee of the Day every day during the week, and have former agency leaders speak to employees about how their experiences as a public servant impacted and shaped their executive leadership career.

You can also use the PSRW eCards to acknowledge all that your employees do in service of our nation and share your appreciation via Twitter using the hashtag #PSRW.

What are you doing to thank and recognize your employees during this week? Please share your stories and post your ideas below, or email me at

Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter:

@post_lead | @thefedcoach | @lily_cunningham

View Photo Gallery: The 20 large federal agencies that got the highest leadership scores in the 2011 Federal Employment Viewpoint Survey.

More from On Leadership:

How to become a great federal leader

Rocking the boat in federal agencies

Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.



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