Every year since 1985, seven days in May have been designated as Public Service Recognition Week, a time to honor federal, state and local government employees and acknowledge the many benefits they provide to the American public.
While leaders in the private sector are lauded as running "best places to work" for their efforts to recruit, develop and recognize employees, public servants are often seldom given the recognition they deserve for their efforts.
Consider this data point to appreciate the difference: Only about 46 percent of federal employees believe they are recognized appropriately for a job well done. That's about 22 points lower than what is found in the private sector.
That difference is a shame considering that federal employees are working every day to address the country’s most pressing needs: keeping our country safe, maintaining economic stability, ensuring basic civil rights, providing educational opportunity, caring for veterans and protecting public health and the environment.
While praise from the public would be welcome, it is critically important that political and career federal leaders take the time during the week of May 7 to let their employees know they are valued and that the work they do is important.
Over the years, my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, has collected ideas about efforts federal leaders can take and organized them into a Public Service Recognition Week Toolkit that includes a guide for federal agencies. Regardless of your leadership role, take time during this week to recognize the good work of your team, and begin to build a culture of recognition that continues throughout the year.
There are numerous ways to highlight the work of your staff. At a minimum, federal agency leaders should send an email to their employees expressing gratitude for their hard work and results. Don't worry. If you are not sure exactly what to say, the toolkit has some sample messages to get you started.
Leaders with social media savvy can supplement the emails by blogging or tweeting #PSRW to reinforce the importance of public service to the American public.
Some leaders might want to take a step further by ensuring that their employee newsletters publicize activities and events taking place during the week, including the Public Service Charity 5K Run/Walk to benefit the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund or the Washington Nationals' Federal Workforce Day on May 25.
Committed agencies have been intentional about coordinating employee awards programs to occur during the week. It's a great time to highlight the career achievements of long-time public employees as well as the work of other individuals and teams making significant contributions.
You also can set aside time for personal thank you messages to high-performing employees — handwritten notes, emails, phone calls or a personal pat on the back will do the job. You also might consider organizing an employee appreciation rally. In past years, some federal leaders have greeted their employees as they have entered the headquarters, while others have organized informal social events.
These gestures, big and small, will matter. Acknowledging and rewarding excellent work and providing praise can go a long way to boosting morale and improving organizational performance.
Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is the vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.