It wasn’t what they said at the event. It was what they did not say. The gloomy feel to the room of professional federal communicators.
Technically, it shouldn’t have been that way. The overall numbers — meaning, the annual U.S. Office of Personnel Management Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results — show that federal employee morale has increased since President Trump took office, by 2.1 points.
According to the Partnership for Public Service, which conducts an annual “Best Places To Work In The Federal Government” analysis each year, this increase is the largest jump annually in the history of the rankings. (They also note that the increase in morale continues a trend that began during the Obama administration, e.g. the trendline is up for three years running.)
But agood researcher has to go beyond the overall numbers and look at individual Departments and agencies. There, the picture is decidedly more mixed; for example NASA employees are apparently the happiest and most engaged in the federal government, whereas employees of the U.S. Secret Service are the most miserable.
And from my little tiny perch in my tiny little corner of the world, it sure looks like a lot of federal communicators are leaving the civil service. Leaving in their wake employees more likely to express positive views.
Maybe I am biased. But as somebody said recently on Twitter (and sometimes I do ask myself if I’ve “forgotten how to read,” as others seem to be doing, if I’m sitting here quoting Twitter to you) I trust my personal experience, observation, and intuition as a source of data. And especially given how progressively consolidated, corporate-owned and manipulated the media is, it would be foolish to form opinions based solely on the headlines.
A favorite topic of conversation between me and my older daughter is “gut instinct.” When should you trust it? How do you know what is it trying to tell you? And are those instincts, particularly fear instincts, worth listening to?
You can look at it from both angles, I always say. On the one hand we really do have “The Gift of Fear,” and there are definitely people who give off such a scary and creepy vibe that even their photos warn me to stay the hell away from them.
On the other hand, though, fear and worry frequently also exist in a way that is disconnected from environmental signals. In other words, we learn to be afraid and we can also learn how to retrain our brains to stop seeing danger everywhere.
But what I saw and felt in that room triggered more than just my gut instincts. It did not set off my fear. What I experienced, today, was an acute sensitivity to the people who did not make it into the room.
I was feeling the absence of my colleagues who dedicated several decades of their lives to the cause of making government-speak just a little bit more understandable.
And while I was wowed at the show of strategic and technical prowess I witnessed in today’s remarks, I was saddened for the government’s loss of sheer, no-bullshit institutional knowledge and attitude.
It is possible to do communication at a very human level, incorporating all the tools of the trade, and still never scratch the surface of what it is that the public actually wants us to do.
If we are looking for a metric for federal communication success, we only need to ask one question, as Gallup did in 2013:
How much trust and confidence do you have in the agencies and departments of the federal government when it comes to carrying out the functions of the federal government — a great deal, a fair amount, not very much or none at all?Back then, 52% of survey respondents answered in the affirmative: either they felt “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the federal government’s ability to do its work.
Instead of figuratively “stepping over the dead bodies” of accusations left unanswered, questions that linger, and communicators that leave wordlessly from the civil service, we would do well to add that question to a quarterly, statistically viable poll administered by the government, for the public to answer each year.
Where you have satisfied customers you have employees that are satisfied, too.
The federal government would do well to adequately staff the federal communications function, and to support and empower its practitioners to deliver the information that people want and need to hear.
Truthful, accurate, timely, relevant information.
All the time.
Information that others can rely on for its validity, clarity, and completely nonpartisan nature.
Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. This blog is hereby released into the public domain. All opinions are the author’s own. Photo credit: whoismargot / Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons)