By Ann Boehm, May 20, 2020

In this strange COVID-19 world, we are struggling to see the bright side of the situation and trying to avoid the constant barrage of bad news. Actor John Krasinski is providing Some Good News and multiple news outlets are providing Good News updates. Unlike Krasinski, I can’t get the cast of Hamilton to entertain you. Nonetheless, as the oddities of social distancing, telework for all, and virtual meetings continue to drag on, I think it’s important to try to find a bit of good news in the Federal workplace. So here goes.

You can boost employee morale virtually. And you really, really need to try to do so now.

Following last year’s government shutdown, I developed a list of Boosting Employee Morale Do’s and Don’ts for Supervisors. If you’ve attended my training, you have heard them. They’re based mostly on how to avoid being like bad supervisors and more like the good ones. I’ve modified them to fit the current COVID-19 situation.

Don’t be a jerk

I know what you are thinking. I’m not a jerk. But you may not realize behaviors that end up making you seem like a jerk to your employees.

The first thing you need to do to avoid being a jerk to your employees is to honestly assess how you are handling extended isolation and supervising in a teleworking world. Or, if you are not among those teleworking, assess how you are handling the daily stressors and fears you have about your health and safety. Acknowledge your own frustrations and satisfactions. Some people are thriving in the teleworking world – thrilled to be avoiding long commutes and chatty co-workers. Others are missing the workplace and social contact. Different people are handling things differently. Some people are happy to have a job and income; some are very worried about their personal risk. Try to be sensitive to those differences.

Also remember that communication is different in the virtual world. Read your emails carefully to make sure the tone you intend is what is coming through in writing. Understand that your employees may need some assistance with that as well.

Focus on mission requirements and employee performance without getting stuck on bureaucratic 9:00 to 5:30 work hours. Understand that people are dealing with cranky spouses, children, and other family members in their care. If they need to get some work done from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., and the rest done from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., assess whether that is adversely impacting on your mission or whether it is fine, even if it is different than the norm.

Ultimately, if you stay mission-focused and open-minded, you will avoid being a jerk. And this will boost employee morale.

Do say thank you

Employees may be feeling a bit lost right now, and the best way to give them a sense of belonging is to thank them for continuing to work for the public. Some of you may be supervising essential workers who are not teleworking. Don’t take them for granted. If you send a thank you email to an employee, I can almost guarantee they will share it with some family member or friend. Every employee likes to get praise.

Do include employees in planning

Take the time to look at whether your mission and your employees are matching up. And get employee input on this. Think about those projects you and employees never have time for, and see if this is a good time to get them moving.

Analyze what is working well with teleworking and what is not. Some employees are going to get very used to teleworking. Start thinking now about what is going to happen when the workplace reopens. NASA has a re-entry program for astronauts for a reason. Change is hard. Getting people used to coming into an office will be an adjustment. The best way to create an effective workplace is to plan ahead, to the extent possible, and involve your employees in the planning.

Do talk to employees

Talk to your employees. Yes, really talk to them in some format — call, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, whatever. But talk to them.

I spoke with a friend the other day (an IT guru) who said he was just tired of the sound of Zoom meetings. The beeps when people click in and out. The computer audio. Ask your employees how they are dealing with these kinds of things. It will make them feel better if you just let them talk freely.

Another thing to consider is sending out some sort of weekly or bi-weekly email to your employees that tells them how you are handling the impact of the virus, how you value them, how your organization is staying mission focused, and any other fun information you think they would like to hear. Sometimes employees forget that supervisors are human too. Tell them if you have started a new exercise routine, discovered a great book or Netflix series, learned to play an instrument — you get the idea.

Remind employees that it’s a good time to be a federal employee

This is a new addition to my do’s and don’ts list. Just a year ago, with the government shutdown, federal employment didn’t seem like such a great thing.  But as unemployment skyrockets, federal employees need to be thankful for their jobs. It’s my belief that the desire for federal jobs is going to go through the roof in the next few months. Use this to motivate people. They are now the truly fortunate ones who have jobs. They can be proud of their federal service, even as they may be frustrated with the daily existence in COVID-19 world. In the final analysis, maybe this is the really Good News for now.

Stay strong and stay safe. [email protected]

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