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What every leader in government should be doing right now

With the latest federal employee survey out in the field, many government leaders may be tempted to wait for the results before launching into their next round of employee engagement activities. That would be a big mistake.

Agency leaders need to focus on employee engagement 365 days a year – not just when the survey results become public – and they should seek to communicate with the workforce as frequently and transparently as possible.

These are some of the lessons from a recent Best Places to Work in the Federal Government analysis of federal law enforcement agencies conducted by my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, and by Deloitte. While some of the findings included in “Employee and Job Satisfaction in the Law Enforcement Community” are unique to this group, many can be applied throughout the government.

Let’s first take a closer look at the need for leaders to recognize the connection between employee engagement and agency performance.

When we talked to members of the law enforcement community, they noted that some leaders see engaging employees and supporting their mission as two separate matters. The most successful leaders in high-performing agencies – the FBI was one agency that stood out – see the two issues as directly related. Employees fully engaged in achieving their agencies’ mission are usually more effective.

The advice for federal law enforcement leaders applies throughout the federal government. Make employee engagement a full-time responsibility for all leaders.

More specifically, supplement the survey data by talking directly with employees to solicit their views about your agencies’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as their advice regarding what you might do differently to improve employee satisfaction, commitment and, ultimately, performance.

Some agencies convene regular focus groups consisting of a random sample of employees, while others organize more permanent advisory committees throughout the year to collect feedback. Either way, be sure to follow through by implementing some of the employee suggestions, engaging employees in the process and making adjustments as needed over time.

We’ve also found that one of the best ways a leader can improve employee satisfaction and commitment is through personal communication.

We found that the “need to know” nature of information-sharing in law enforcement can make frequent, open discussions with employees challenging, but leaders like FBI Director James Comey have made a point of meeting regularly with employees at headquarters and in offices nationwide. He’s also ensured that other leaders in the agency are measured and assessed on their communication skills through internal employee surveys.

Leaders would be wise to take a page from Comey’s playbook. Schedule time in advance to talk with your employees. Whether you’re a team leader scheduling check-ins with direct reports, or a senior agency official scheduling personal site visits to geographically dispersed locations, the effort should yield dividends if you genuinely engage in open dialogue.

You can supplement those personal conversations with regular emails updating the workforce, and with periodic surveys to assess whether the communications efforts are having their intended impact.

The bottom line for leaders is: Don’t wait. Get out there now. Start talking with your employees and take action, however small at first, to follow through on their recommendations. If you get started right away, your employees might even take note of the progress on your survey.

Please share any thoughts in the comment section below on how leaders can improve employee morale and commitment to their jobs and to your agency’s mission. You can also email me at

Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is the vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

Read also:

Why does the FBI rate high and the Secret Service score low on morale?

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