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As federal workers transition back to the office, creating a healthy workplace culture is a must

August 8, 2023

By: Tifani Gleeson, MD, Chief Medical Officer
Sedgwick Government Solutions

As we inch closer to 2024, the White House is aiming to substantially increase in-person work – giving federal agencies and managers an opportunity to take a supportive and proactive role as employees adapt to a new workplace. By meeting employees where they are and focusing on community, mental health and physical wellness, managers can be the difference between this transition going smoothly or worsening their teams’ anxiety. Taking a holistic approach to employee well-being and creating a healthy workplace culture will help ease the transition for employees going back to the office. This blog will highlight a few tips for federal agencies navigating this change.

Build community

Employees returning to the office is a chance for teams to build the bonds that help make work meaningful. Humans are hardwired for connection, and in-person interactions are a key part of creating the community and camaraderie that keeps a team running smoothly. To help federal staff perform at their best and drive engagement, team leaders must shift how they manage team members, focusing on the minds and hearts of employees.

Offer incentives

As understaffed agencies manage growing workloads, it may be difficult to motivate employees to commute to the office once again. Giving your team concrete reasons for wanting to come into the office can help create a smoother transition and build an in-person workplace culture that thrives. Government agencies have the flexibility to design awards programs to meet the needs and expectations of their workforce and reflect their culture.

Consider putting in place performance-based cash awards, otherwise known as rating-based awards, which recognize a federal employee’s performance over an entire rating period. Time-off awards, a form of recognition that allows time off without loss of pay or charge of leave, also goes a long way for employees.

Focus on mental health and well-being

In recent years, mental health has emerged as a top priority in both personal and professional spaces. It’s important for managers to talk about mental wellness as part of understanding their employees’ perspectives. Studies have shown that happier employees are more likely to perform at their best both in and out of the office, so prioritizing well-being benefits both your team members and your agency. Another benefit of prioritizing employee mental well-being is that it not only reduces an organization’s overall absence rate, but it also helps avoid the associated costs of absenteeism and misused taxpayer dollars.

When an employee is repeatedly away for extended periods of time with no prior warning, their workload is shifted to their colleagues. Those employees are then at risk of becoming overworked, potentially disgruntled and stressed to a point they too need time off work, which can be quite costly depending on the roles and responsibilities of the absent employees.

Recognize and affirm employees

Employees want to be valued as individuals with unique traits they bring to the team. Meaningful recognition isn’t measured only in dollars and cents. It’s less about accolades and more about connection, such as recognition and appreciation from management, senior leadership or peers. Proactively affirming your team members can promote mental health, team camaraderie and loyalty.

Agencies should consider giving honorary and informal recognition awards to their federal workforce. An honorary award recognizes an employee for his or her performance and value to the organization. Encourage team members to participate and formally nominate their colleagues as a way to build camaraderie. This is often commemorated with engraved plaques or medals. Many agencies are discovering the value of incentive award programs which provide more frequent and informal recognition of employees and group contributions.

Stay flexible

Leaders have the opportunity to be accommodating while remaining in charge. Managers should be prepared to adapt as their team members go back to the office. When circumstances permit, give employees autonomy and choice. Remaining flexible and understanding establishes trust with your team during a time that can be challenging for many.

A mandate to return to the office will be disruptive for much of the federal workforce. But it doesn’t have to affect productivity and well-being if leaders are intentional about supporting team members through the adjustment and maximizing the opportunity to foster an in-person culture and a sense of community.

Learn more about Sedgwick Government Solutions.