How can leaders keep exiting feds on point during the transition?

Job satisfaction data could point the way to a smooth transition for incoming and remaining federal employees.

cartoon image of workers leaving

The transition between presidential administrations entails the turnover of some 4,000 politically appointed positions, and effective government operation relies on keeping those employees engaged during their waning months and making sure their replacements are suitably prepared to take over.

In the final report in its 2015 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government series, the Partnership for Public Service teamed with Deloitte to suggest how government agencies and leaders can best communicate with both outgoing and incoming employees.

In 2013, Deloitte conducted a study that determined effective communication from leadership correlates to more positive employee engagement. Despite this positive relationship, the Partnership reported that only "roughly half" of federal employees are satisfied with the level of communication they have with their higher-ups.

The job satisfaction data comes from the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey of over 421,000 responses, and the Partnership for Public Service's findings are based on subsequent interviews with federal employees.

The transition to a succeeding administration is a time of "heightened uncertainty" for many government employees, and a seamless one depends on the quality of communication from those in positions of leadership to their staff, the report states.

Specifically, it spells out that leaders should communicate regularly with employees about the transition, communicate in as many ways as possible, encourage employee participation and involvement and begin preparing the incoming workforce immediately post-inauguration.

Frequent communication, the report states, increases transparency and reduces anxiety about the transition in order to keep employees focused on their work through the duration of their tenure. Based on interviews with federal employees, the study found that positive communication can be as simple as leaders' acknowledging the transition is taking place, and -- as much as possible -- informing employees how agencies' preparations for the transition could impact the workplace.

Interviewees also said the transition can be "a good time to remind employees how their day-to-day work contributes to mission fulfillment and serves the public," and to dispel misconceptions that new leadership can "eliminate their program with the wave of the hand."

Additionally, the report notes that senior leaders tend to communicate better than lower-level managers do, suggesting that information passed down from senior leaders does not always make it to staff. Interviewees stressed the importance of communication all the way down the totem pole to minimize anxiety and keep employees focused.

The report recommends addressing employees in small-group, in-person meetings to make them feel like their opinions are valued. The report also recommended a technology-based approach to information-sharing. One agency created an interactive "wiki" website for users to post and communicate about the transition.

Lastly, waiting for political appointees to be officially confirmed before preparing them for their positions may be customary, but doing so "wastes valuable time," the report states, as many have no prior federal experience and may face a steep learning curve.

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