Managers, Morale, and Employee Engagement in the Federal Workforce

After a three year pay freeze, unpaid sequester furloughs, a government shutdown, regular threats to pensions and health benefits, and a steady stream of negative rhetoric, it is little surprise that federal employee morale is declining. The federal workforce has seen a decline in hiring and an increase in retirements and resignations to go to the private sector. Left unchecked, morale will continue to pose significant challenges to recruitment and retention.

Consider these comments from a Federal Managers Association (FMA) member who works on aircraft carriers at one of the nation’s shipyards: “As for morale, I think it's just a day-by-day thing. We're in the same position as many other agencies when it comes to lack of resources, funding, and trained manpower. You just can't hire people, throw them on an aircraft carrier and say, ‘go to work.’ Kids are supervising infants. The older, experienced guys, like myself, worry we'll never be able to fix things. The damage has been done and we're all limping into nothing but to ‘manage by crisis.’”

This is no way to manage the federal workforce, which, in addition to maintaining aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines, provide essential services like processing Social Security checks and tax returns, protecting our borders, and caring for our nation’s veterans.

One step Congress should take immediately is to provide managerial training. Nearly everyone we meet with agrees on the value and need for training for all managers and supervisors on issues such as how to address poor performing employees, enhancing mentoring skills and conducting accurate performance appraisals. The development of these skills is one of the greatest investments agencies can make, both in terms of productivity and the retention of valuable employees. Further, providing sufficient training for managers would improve morale and engagement within the workplace. Regrettably, when budgets are tight, these programs are the first to see their funding cut. FMA endorsed legislation introduced in the 112th Congress requiring agencies to provide supervisors with training on various management topics and urges Congress to introduce and approve similar legislation.    

Three members of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recognized the problem negative morale imposes on the federal workforce and requested the Government Accountability Office conduct a study on its effects and its impact on the workforce’s ability to serve the American public. FMA National President Patricia Niehaus offered support of the study, stating, “front line managers are already aware of the problem of morale. It impacts productivity and accountability, on top of recruitment and retention. I’m glad this problem is finally getting the attention it deserves.” Additionally, FMA, along with other members of the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations, is working on a new Employee Engagement Workgroup. Members of the Council, along with members of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, are examining employee motivation, how managers can engage their employees, and how workforce involvement impacts departments and agencies’ ability to meet missions and goals.   

FMA’s members are primarily front-line managers, and by focusing attention on morale and engagement, it is FMA’s hope is that Congress and all federal department and agency leaders keep these managers involved at the outset of discussions on budgets and other priorities. Managers implement the vision and help keep their team focused on their congressionally-mandated missions, so it makes sense that they should be involved in each step of the decision-making process.

Another way to improve morale is to simply recognize the contributions that the men and women of the federal, state, and local government perform daily. The 2014 Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW) theme is “Proud to Serve.” PSRW kicks off on Sunday, May 4th, with the Public Service 5K Run/Walk in Washington, D.C. There are several promotions throughout the week, including a whiteboard campaign asking public servants across the country why they serve their fellow Americans; a public service town hall, featuring federal leaders discussing the value of government service, moderated by ABC News Political Commentator Cokie Roberts; and, the announcement of finalists for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America medals, which recognize federal workers who go above and beyond the call of duty for their country. You do not need to be in Washington, D.C., to celebrate PSRW. Be sure to visit to find guides and other materials to celebrate public service across the country!  

Celebrating its 100th year, the Federal Managers Association (FMA) is proud of its long tradition of Advocating Excellence in Public Service. For more information on how FMA works to protect your interests and to join our team, please visit

Posted in Hear it from FMA

Tags: Federal Managers Association, employee engagement, federal moral


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