Rockin' Your Resiliency During Tumultuous Times: Government Shutdown Tips for Heading Back to Work

If there’s one thing I know about Federal employees, it’s that they’re resilient. With twenty years of public service under my belt and working alongside the Federal workforce within six different branches of government including during and after 9/11 – I have seen first-hand the dedication and drive fellow Federal employees have for overcoming the toughest challenges our nation faces.

Equally as impressive, is their resounding dedication to the missions of their respective agencies…which made every passing day of the partial shutdown of the Federal Government so painful, not just for the roughly 800,000 Federal employees affected, but also for their families, friends, and supporters.

The recent shutdown lasted more than 30 days, making it the longest in our nation’s history. And with the potential to revert back to an unfunded status again in just a few short weeks, its even more important to share tips and resources about how to remain resilient, and how to stay laser focused on a solutions approach to the personal challenges you each may be facing, as you head back to work and integrate back into the mission of your Agency.

Across many so communities, including the robust network from organizations like the Senior Executives Association, Young Government Leaders, the National Academy of Public Administration and the Management Concepts government training community of Federal employees, many shared resources are available for managers, acquisition and procurement officials to navigate the significant impact of challenges for the workforce.  Especially critical are the practical tips on resiliency, how to stay optimistic and lean on internal and external resources to help get back into the swing of things now.  These critical topics were the focus of a recent Facebook Live event I co-hosted with Virginia Hill, the Partnership for Public Service’s Senior Manager in Leadership Development.

As a recap, we offered a thoughtful overview about resilience as a valuable trait for overcoming the significant and lingering personal and organizational challenges a shutdown like this can have.

“The basic definition of resilience that we use is that of an essential capability to bounce back,” Virginia said. “Sometimes it’s not about bouncing back to where you were. It’s about just recovering from it. It’s moving through it as opposed to just moving on.”

Throughout the conversation, we also covered the four main ingredients for resiliency.

  1. “Resilient people are not in denial of reality or wishing that things were different,” she said. “They stay away from blaming or complaining about what’s going on. They focus on the here and now. It’s seeing that setback or uncertainty as a normal way of being.”
  2. The second ingredient, Hill continued, is “a belief that life is meaningful” during both positive and negative times.
  3. “Resilient people see that they can learn from just about anything,” she said. “It’s recognizing whatever it is and whether it has something to teach me.”
  4. Hill added that the final ingredient of resiliency – “a mindfulness practice or a self-care practice” – is perhaps the most crucial during this shutdown.

Three Key Resources for Federal Employees for Resiliency After the Shutdown

Equally important are the reminders about some of the often overlooked benefits and resources that Federal Government employees can leverage, for their health and well-being, as they begin to re-integrate to work. Federal managers will need to lean on these kinds of resources to help support and reinforce a culture of health and well-being, financial security and engagement. Leveraging programs and policies that enable Work-Life support will also remain critically important as they work with their teams to help them through the personal challenges in their lives that the shutdown caused. These resources may also be of use for Federal contractors, who are also navigating similar furlough and business loss challenges.

  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and WorkLife4You – If your agency has them available, leveraging both the web portals and phone concierge services can be a big help. EAPs offer free and confidential assistance with personal and/or work-related challenges, and even offer short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to help employees and their families overcome any life issue they are faced with. Some referral programs can help locate resources like cost-effective child or dependent care options, car-pooling or transportation options, they often provide free financial planning, and are able to locate other community resources based on your individual needs. An agency’s Work-Life program coordinator will also be a great resource to lean on for managers who are looking for ways to re-integrate and support their teams as they transition back to work. Another consideration for managers to keep in mind with respect to their staff who worked without pay during the shutdown…now is a great time to meet with them to discuss whether they might need some time off to re-set. Another idea is to offer them flexible schedule options to help accommodate their need to tend to the things in their lives that are most important to them, while still being able to focus on the agency’s mission. Flexible and supportive workplace programs like telework, compressed, flexible or alternate work schedules or use of leave (for those who were expected to continue working) can make a significant difference in the ability for them to manage the demands of both work and life, as they re-focus back on the mission after the shutdown.
  • Health Care Flexible Spending Account (HCFSA) – If you enrolled in a HCFSA for the 2019 benefit year, you may be eligible to use your entitlement to pay for eligible medical, dental, and vision care expenses even while you were on furlough or without a paycheck. HCFSAs typically cover eligible expenses for things not covered by your health care plan or elsewhere, including co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles. It’s worth exploring the kinds of stress relief or therapeutic options you might be able to take advantage of as you focus on getting back to work. These plans also cover services like physical therapy, massage, chiropractor, and acupuncture or even over-the-counter health care items like bandages, blood pressure monitors, to name a few. Be sure to give them a call to see how you can leverage your benefits now, if you have them.
  • Employee Resource or Affinity Groups – Employee resource and affinity groups can be a wonderful way to share resources, instill a sense of community and support as workers re-integrate into their normal routines. Be sure to invite groups that can inspire and support workers in the workplace to share their concerns, suggest ideas for re-engagement and include them in conversations on how best to assist, empower and refocus the workforce on what matters most.

Although the shutdown has ended for now, leveraging these kinds of resources, as well as leaning on each other for support, will be extremely important in the coming weeks, especially as the risk of another shutdown approaches. Stay tuned for more tips designed for Federal leaders who will need to re-engage and empower employee engagement amongst the workforce once everyone is fully back to work.

Written by:
Mika Cross
Human Capital & Human Resources



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