Federal leaders can have a major influence on employee satisfaction, but it can sometimes be hard for them to figure out where to start. They know it's critical to boost worker morale, successfully fulfill agency missions and develop high levels of employee productivity. What they don't always realize is that those bigger changes are often the result of much smaller efforts — like empowering workers, managing fairly, keeping people informed about organizational priorities, and actively soliciting feedback from the rank and file.

An analysis of the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” rankings by my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, and by Deloitte suggests that leaders willing to make subtle but still powerful changes in behavior can achieve significant improvement in employee commitment. Here are a few starting points to help you improve your workplace dynamic:

Communicate formally, informally and frequently. The majority of federal employees say that their leaders don’t share enough information about what’s going on in their agencies. Leaders in the most high-performing agencies make a point of carving out time to communicate by sending weekly email summaries of their activities, holding town-hall and smaller team meetings, walking the halls to catch people one-on-one, or even eating lunch in the cafeteria to talk with employees. These interactions are the foundation for building trust and transparency among your employees.

Focus on values, vision and mission. With so much attention focused on government’s failures, leaders must not only keep their operations on the straight and narrow path, but they also must be the voice of optimism for the rest of the workforce trying hard to achieve the agency’s goals. As a result, it’s important that you find clever ways to reinforce the values expected of employees through your communications, actions and performance management systems.

Ask employees to help you make a difference. You don't need to face problems as an army of one. You’re better off making any new initiative a team sport by drafting volunteers to the cause. Leaders who have improved their employee survey results have done so by tapping into their employees’ ideas for improving the workplace. Little things can ease employees’ daily burdens and free them to concentrate on the work they love rather than the administrative tasks they hate. Enlist your employees to chart the course for the agency and then clear the path.

Please share your thoughts how leaders can better communicate, motivate and engage their employees. You can post a comment below or send me an e-mail to

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.

Read also:

What to do when managers and employees aren’t on the same page

Tips from federal agencies with happy employees

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