Shutdown and Shutout? Are you considering leaving gov?

We are now in day eight of the government shutdown and with no resolution in sight, many are starting to worry about the long-term ramifications of the shutdown. One of those ramifications could be young people turning away from government service.

And who could blame them? The shutdown and sequestration have turned the once stable government career into a roller coaster of furloughs, pay freezes and budget cuts.

Tom Fox is the Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that you can already see current federal interns turning away from a career in government service. 

“I was at an event last night for the Washington Center’s internship program. I had a chance to talk to some of the current interns and of this current crop, 90 of them are furloughed. They moved to DC to join the public service for now for a short-term time and then ultimately for a long-term career and they are literally shut out from doing their work. It is frustrating to say the least and for those that are already full-time employee it is incredibly damaging,” said Fox.

Goodbye government service?

“You need a paycheck to pay for rent and all the other necessities of life. There is a much greater uncertainty and frankly a fear associated with a government job than ever before. We are starting to see a bunch of people say 'we want to pursue public service, but government is only one path. Maybe I’ll just try a non-profit instead,'” said Fox.

Will the shutdown affect the government’s ability to hire?

“Absolutely, I think that you will get a lot of folks who will consider other career options before they consider government. Government for a long time offered not just the ability to do public service but also stability. When you eliminate stability as one of the primary draws of a career you do a great disservice. Right now feds don’t know if they are going to get paid. They don’t know when they will be able to go to work. You are literally not able to do your public service, so people are looking for ways that they can do good work, they can make real contributions to society, but in the absence of some of the games that are being played right now,” said Fox.

What can leaders do to ease the shutdown stress?

  1. Under the current circumstances, as is appropriate based on your agency’s guidance, you should reach out to your folks and make sure they are ok. I’ve talked to leaders who have said they have sent personal emails or texts - obviously not on federal phones, just to check in.

  2. Once the government re-opens you really need to work quite aggressively to re-recruit that talent. Don’t just think that an email to the team saying, 'glad your back' will be enough. You need to really think about multiple methods of communicating with, listening to and really working with your employees.

“If you can lock arms with your employees and really rally around each other when the government reopens, it will make a difference. You can’t do anything about pay or time off. But if you focus on getting back up and running that will demonstrate a real commitment on your part as a leader. It won’t get everybody and it may take a little time. But that is really your job as a leader. Leaders have to:

  • Define the goals.

  • Demonstrate passion.

  • Bring the energy that will ultimately become infectious.

Find the Mission

“I have heard a lot of stories of people who are still furloughed at the present moment of finding ways through volunteer activities to still connect with their beneficiaries. Maybe I can’t do my job, but I could volunteer for a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. They are finding ways to serve their beneficiaries albeit without a paycheck,” said Fox.

The Service to America Medals were held last thursday despite the shutdown. Why was that so important? (Our recap of the event)

“The Sammies were a spotlight in all the doom and gloom that is currently surrounding the government. It was also an opportunity to see the best of the best. I think for any leader whether you are at the top of the house or on the frontlines, it is an illustration that despite those difficulties, really exceptional leadership can see folks through whatever the difficulty. It is important not to forget that. To make every effort to see that you are connecting to the mission and to motivate your people. You are clearing their paths,” said Fox.

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