Trust is fickle and just a few small events can cause that trust to break. From Hatch Act violations to gridlock in Congress to sexual assaults in the military, some say trust in the federal government is on the decline.
In an exclusive Federal News Radio survey of over 1,900 federal employees, members of the private sector and retirees, 70 percent of the federal employees responding rated the level of trust they have in the government itself at or below 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. Less than 3 percent have near complete trust. Equally telling, 90 percent of respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Does the government need to rebuild trust with its employees?”
As part of our special report, Trust Redefined: Reconnecting Government and Its Employees, Federal News Radio asked the National Treasury Employees Union; Young Government Leaders; American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO; and Federally Employed Women for their thoughts on trust in the government. The leaders shared their views and explained what a new model of trust will look like in the future.
W hat does “trust” between federal employees and agencies look like in today’s workforce? Is it a positive or negative relationship?
“I think telework is a symptom of the fact that we really do have good trust going on among employees and managers. You cannot have telework, you cannot have telepresence, without the trust that people are going to be getting their work done when they’re not in the actual office in their actual cubicle.” — Virginia Hill, President, Young Government Leaders
“The Postmaster General has reached a deal with Staples, but they’re not staffed by postal employees. … It represents a shift of decent paying jobs to low-wage jobs. That’s not something that’s going to build trust between the agency and the workers.” — Mark Dimondstein, President, American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO
Do you think trust between federal employees and agencies can be completely restored? Or will it begin to deteriorate?
“There are opportunities for that to happen, including if telework is ever abused or if managers feel like the productivity is going down. We, as employees, have to hold up our end of the bargain, as well. If we are trusted to telework, then we therefore need to demonstrate that telework has value, and then we can maintain that level of autonomy.”
“That’s really what a lot of this is about, is treating each other with dignity and respect and acknowledging that everyone has something really important to contribute to the conversation about the success of the agency.” — Colleen Kelley, President, National Treasury Employees Union
“If you have an agency head that’s just not really supportive of the federal workforce and isn’t helping them, isn’t trying to boost morale, obviously that’s going to deteriorate.” — Janet Kopenhaver, Washington Representative, Federally Employed Women
What steps can agency leaders and managers take to reinstate and maintain trust in government?
“Take on those kinds of innovative products. Make sure that the e-commerce is out there. … The Internet has caused some decline in first class mail, on the one hand. But on the other hand, it’s caused an explosion of the package delivery system on the e-commerce side.”
“Some of [the agencies] are so big that it’s almost impossible for a top leader in the agency to really interact with and deal with every employee in the agency. So it’s really about how their message is dispersed throughout the agency, and if there’s life that’s really breathed into that message, so that it doesn’t lose the real intent before it gets down to the front line.”
“We think the trust could be restored and certainly improved if the agency heads step up to bat and revamp these programs, give them the support and resources that they need, make them viable again and really try and move forward with getting women up in these higher levels of the federal workforce.”
What influence can federal employee groups and labor unions have in terms of rebuilding and maintaining trust?
“With YGL, we have the opportunity to use media outlets and blogging and social media and speaking events and things like that to address accountability, trust and the culture of public service on the bigger level.”
“The agencies need to work with the unions to make a list of those things and to get them implemented. We know they won’t be implemented all at once. But to have none of those ideas tapped into, while the agencies are struggling … is very frustrating for employees when they know there are better ways to do it.”
“The coalition is doing a big social media effort, Twitter campaign, on the services that federal workers provide to Americans. … It’s getting it in the media, getting positive stories, if possible, out there about the great stuff that federal workers do.”
How can we ensure trust in government to attract new talent to the public sector?
“The Postal Service has to stop the race to the bottom. You can’t constantly be giving us the message that you aren’t needed or somebody else can do it cheaper, and expect to have trust and a cohesive future workforce.”
“In order to both retain the employees that are there today, as well as to attract new ones, I think that there needs to be a lot of improvement in the treatment of the existing workforce. That’s where so many will look to, to decide if this is a place they even want to come to work.”
“Very nearly half of the federal workforce can be retiring, I think, in the next five, six, seven years. We have got to attract younger employees to the federal workforce. That means highlighting those cool jobs that the federal government has, highlighting the critical services that the federal workers provide Americans, and just making it an attractive workplace.”