August 24, 2016
Tammy Brignoli, Senior Advisor, Center for Presidential Transition
Imagine all of the top leaders of a Fortune 50 company heading for the exits within weeks of each other, and new bosses taking over in the days and months that follow. The disruption would be significant, and for employees, unease and uncertainty would be the order of the day.
This is the process now beginning to unfold in the federal government with the presidential election just a few short months away. Political appointees are leaving or preparing to leave, and employees are wondering how their work life will change and what will happen to the programs and policies that now occupy their attention.
With such a change, communication is vital to reassure employees and maintain a high level of engagement.
The Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte recently released an issue brief entitled, Moving the Needle on Employee Engagement During the Presidential Transition, that focuses on need for leaders to keep employees informed as best they can about on-going transition activities, and what to expect in this period before the election and after.
We found that managers communicating regularly with employees throughout the transition will help reduce anxiety and keep employees focused on their work.
According to our interviews, employees would appreciate their leaders doing something as simple as acknowledging that a transition is underway and change is coming. To the extent possible, leaders should share what their agencies are doing to prepare for the transition and discuss how the transition is likely to affect the workplace. When more developments occur, they should communicate what they can with employees.
Because the transition affects members of the workforce differently—for example, junior, mid-level and retirement-eligible employees, those interviewed encouraged agency leaders to strategically tailor the messages they communicate. For instance, one interviewee explained that junior-level employees, often going through their first transition, may erroneously believe that incoming leadership can immediately “eliminate their program with a wave of the hand.”A targeted effort to ensure that junior-level employees are correctly informed could prevent unnecessary anxiety.
Leaders should encourage two-way communication to allow employees a voice and an opportunity to engage in transition activities, which will help support changes. Most importantly, federal employees should be reminded of the importance of their daily duties that contribute to the mission regardless of changes that lie ahead.
Now is the time for leaders at all levels to ensure communication flows up, down and laterally to engage the workforce before the election, and to be as transparent as possible throughout the presidential transition process.