Treat Employees As Valued Members of A Team: Thinking About Federal Employees Amid A Government Shutdown
The Federal government shutdown over border wall funding impacts the United States in many ways, some more noticeable than others. While the shutdown will inconvenience Americans who need to utilize government services, the approximately 800,000 Federal employees directly impacted by the partial shutdown and the thousands of Federal contractors who will not receive back pay for their missed work face financial hardships. Politically, the situation can leave Americans conflicted. On the one hand, shutdowns will do little to disrupt the lives of average Americans in the short-term while there is a great deal of resent toward government workers among the populous. Federal employees with an undergraduate degree or less are paid 20% to 50% more than their private sector counterparts thanks mainly to their benefits. On the other hand, shutdowns do have long-term consequences and most Federal employees still struggle with the same financial hardships as all average income Americans. It can be easy to resent the benefits, pay, and job security government workers enjoy at the expense of taxpayers, but most Americans can also sympathize with the plight of Federal workers.
Under the “normal” circumstances of a Federal government shutdown, which have become increasingly normal, the elected officials, who orchestrate shutdowns, continue to receive their salaries. They even get to go on vacation. Quite frankly, it is an unbearably unjust situation. Under the shutdown over border wall funding, President Donald Trump has added a new layer of outrage by freezing the wages of Federal employees. For those who view government workers as overcompensated leeches who steal from taxpayers, the development serves as an example of the President tackling corruption in Washington. It is true that many government employees abuse the lack of accountability in government to serve themselves instead of the American People. There are, however, those in government who are true public servants and professionals. There are those who work in government in order to serve their communities. It is these people who want to make government work for the American People and those who have the kind of service-oriented professionalism that is needed.
Where some believe the professional public servant is a minority and others believe government gets a bad rap for a few bad apples in the ranks of its workforce, attacking the pay of employees does nothing to address the problem. Whether talking about the public or private sector, imperiling a person’s living does only one thing: it undermines workplace productivity and business performance. Not only does pay uncertainty foster poor employee-employeer relations, it demotivates workers. Telling workers they do not deserve the pay they get or the raises they want does nothing more than create resentment. Cutting payroll to cover deficits, which is the exact rationale President Trump used to institute his pay freeze, tells employees their wellbeing is the employer’s lowest priority, thus employees should make their employer’s needs their lowest priority. Forcing employees to pay the price for a budget deficit or loss of revenue should be a last resort. Payroll may be among the highest expenses of most businesses, but it is the work of the employees that allows businesses to generate revenue and provide services.
In looking at the impact of the 2018-2019 government shutdown on Federal employees, the treatment of government workers, especially so-called “essential” personnel who are expected to work without pay, highlights the need for constructive employee-employer relations. Donald Trump, whose background in hospitality makes him a low-income employer, appears to see most of his employees as highly expendable and undeserving of professional wages. To him, workers can simply be replaced when they do not perform to his expectations, so they do not to be well-paid or respected. It is a terrible attitude that he is cultivating in government. It is an attitude men like Donald Trump have been cultivating in the private sector for decades. It is an attitude that demotivates workers and discourages professionalism. It is an attitude and business practice that prevents workforce development, thus it deprives businesses of the professional, skilled employees they all need.
Not all workers can, or need to, be paid high wages, but every business needs, at least, core teams of professional employees who have the hard and soft skills needed to ensure the business can accomplish its mission. The workers under the direction and supervision of these core team members need to have professional, service-oriented attitudes. To cultivate these traits in employees, management needs to treat all subordinates as valued team members. In government, where employees and contractors are generally well-paid, it is a lot easier. If the goal is to improve the performance of Federal employees, threatening their pay and devaluing them by calling them overpaid is not going to work. If the goal is to save money, it is better to tackle waste, abuse, and fraud before asking average employees to make do with less. As for the government shutdown, the only Federal employees who are responsible for the shutdown are members of Congress and the President. They should pay the price. They should also do everything they can to avoid burdening Federal employees instead of dismissing their outrage with debasing remarks. It is what service-oriented professionals do for their subordinates in order to foster productive work environments.
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