When the Bureaucracy is Stifling, Recharge

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Part of being an innovator at work involves avoiding burnout, federal officials said.

Innovating inside government bureaucracies can be draining, so it’s important for insiders to frequently ignite their own creative sparks and work to regain inspiration when they’re feeling stifled, federal officials said Thursday.

“I think self-care and wellness are so critical in terms of re-engaging every day,” Kristin McNally, Director of the Labor Department's Employee Engagement Office, told Nextgov at an event hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration in Washington. “If we are not healthy enough to be our true selves, I don’t know how we can solve these really challenging problems that we face every day.”

Speaking in a discussion about shaping creative environments in government, McNally asked other panelists how they pick themselves up when the work they’re doing brings them down.

Sharon Kershbaum, chief operating officer for the D.C. government’s Department of Human Services, who also spent much of her career inside the U.S. Treasury Department said, at times, working in local government can be a “slog.”

“A lot of what motivates me is sort of being a bureaucracy-buster,” Kershbaum said. “I personally do get energized when I can look at someone who is a barrier and is like ‘there’s a rule and you can’t do that,’ and I can say ‘show me the rule.’ And they actually don’t have a rule to show, it’s just the way they’ve been doing it. So I do get great pleasure in those little wins.”

For David Milestone, acting director for the Center for Innovation and Impact, Global Health Bureau inside U.S. Agency for International Development, recharging is all about getting out of the office and into the field to visit innovators who are implementing USAID’s programs on the ground.

“So often, a day in my world can be miserable, it’s paperwork and it’s all the stuff that’s not innovative,” Milestone said.

But when he goes out into the field, Milestone feels re-energized and ready “to inspire the team about why what we do is so important and that turning innovation into impact is the ultimate goal.”

McNally also said a change of scenery can be transformative.

“I personally get outside of work—like literally outside the building,” she said. “I’m very much an experience and environment-based person, so if I don't have that motivating environment that I am actually in, it’s hard to feel like then bringing my best self to work the next day.”