Small steps to turn government workers into stakeholders

Employees into Stakeholders

There is an on-going tension between government and taxpayers. Government workers often feel over-worked and under-appreciated. The public constantly asks them to do more with less. Taxpayers often feel over-taxed and under-appreciated. The government constantly asks them to pay more for sometimes reduced services or programs that don’t affect them directly.

How can we motivate government workers? How can we make government workers and taxpayers feel like part of the same team? Recently, I read two management books that made me ponder this question. It made me realize that we need to…

Make government workers feel like stakeholders. In “Lead Your Staff to Think Like Einstein, Create Like Da Vinci, and Invent Like Edison” (1995), marketing executive Don Blohowiak asks: “If employees have no stake in the company’s relative success – their pay remains essentially constant no matter how the company performs – why should they invest themselves beyond a minimum level?” (page 11).

But take small steps. In “The Spirit of Kaizen” (2013), business consultant Robert Maurer warns that “When people feel that a cash reward is their only reason to work hard, their minds go to sleep…. The key is to make the rewards small… Small rewards speak directly to the employee’s internal motivation. Small rewards say, ‘Management sees that you have a desire to improve and contribute, and we appreciate it'” (page 47-48).

The ideas in these two books coalesced into three small steps for making government workers feel more like stakeholders, empowered and accountable to the public. These ideas are not new programs or flashy initiatives. Instead, they build on existing payroll services, performance bonuses, and press schedules.

1. Reveal “hidden” compensation: As every business owner knows, it costs much more to hire an employee than just the hourly wage. Every payroll includes “hidden” costs paid for by the employer (the government), funded by taxpayers. We should add dollar amounts for government’s contribution to Social Security and Medicare (currently, most paycheck stubs only list the employee’s contribution). We should add line items and dollar amounts for government’s contributions to continuing education and professional development; disability and temporary disability insurance; health insurance; retirement and pension; unemployment insurance; and worker’s compensation, as well as sick and vacation days and other benefits. This reveals the true value of government employment. We already know how much we spend on employees; we just need to assemble the information.

2. Offer small rewards: Whenever an employee negotiates a better rate with a supplier, takes an extra step to verify that someone qualifies for government programs, or finds an equally effective product that costs less, we should thank them and offer a small reward. The reward should be small – whether with sincere thanks, personal notes, personal visits by department leaders, or in a small amount of cash – and could be awarded across the entire department to make everyone feel like part of the team. The small rewards mean that employees feel free to offer small suggestions to save money.

3. Publicize our appreciation for cost-savings: Every quarter, the governor should issue a press release stating how much money government employees and departments have saved by cutting costs, preventing fraud, or eliminating wasteful expenditures. No amount would be too small; even saving 1¢ on photocopies or 5¢ on a ream of paper can add up to big savings. This would let the public know that government workers are working hard for us, and being good stewards of taxpayer money. After all, it’s their money too!

If you are an employee or contractor, how has your company shown that it appreciates you? If you are a business owner, what are the most effective ways to motivate your employees?

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