Restoring Sanity After the Shutdown

10.18.13 After the Shutdown


Story provided by the Powell Consulting Group – 


For more months the partisan bickering has opened a deep divide that extends far beyond the boundaries of Congress or the Washington DC beltway.  The ensuing back and forth spurred a national crisis that had no clear winners and plenty of losers.  Government workers and contractors who want nothing more than to come to work, do a good job and serve the national interests have been caught in the middle of this travesty.  They bore the brunt of the pain and suffering even though they didn’t bear it alone.  During the two weeks of the shutdown, these faithful workers have had their lives upended by no fault of their own.  Mounted on top of the near traumatic impact of a year of sequestration and the promise of another year of the same, this group has been forced to endure the turmoil of uncertainty, boundless list of momentary rules, loss of income and reduced quality of life.


If there is any hint of reasonableness left, one could easily anticipate the negative impact that the shutdown will have on workers’ morale as the government tries to return normal. These workers are likely to find their boxes filled with action items that have backed up, demands for instantaneous service, and expectations that their attitudes that bear no remnants of personal animosity. But the reasonable mind will also recognize that this group is composed of human beings – not sticks, not mortar, not robots and certainly not characters from a TV series, movie or video game.  These are real people who have real pain, real sadness, real disappointment, real loses and real feelings of betrayal that could spill over into the workplace.  We should not be surprised if relationships become a little edgy and feelings a little testy as they get back to work.

Leaders must be prepared to exert a special brand of leadership to restore sanity.  Here are some tips:

  • Give People a Chance to Vent: The emotional residue from this experience will vary with each person – scars could be on the surface for some and much deeper for others.  Left unattended, this emotional scars could cause people to lose their bearings, become lethargic or edgy.   Pent up emotions can trigger sizable outbursts that could appear as an overreaction that some may write off.  Venting can provide relief and help people to rediscover their capacity to persevere.  Venting can also reassure people that they are neither alone or weird for having those emotions.  But, leaders must judiciously manage the venting process so as to prevent even more issues from developing.
  • Communicate with Empathy: Use your active listening skills to connect with others’ plight and feelings.  Communicate understanding and assure people that they are entitled to feel whatever their experience brings forth.  You should absolutely avoid judging, downplaying or marginalizing anyone’s feelings.  However, you may want to facilitate movement beyond those feelings with provocative questions such as, “what are you going to do in order to move beyond the place that you’re in?”
  • Be Flexible:  Adjust to meet the unique needs of the moment.  Be flexible in applying rules.  Look for solutions that fit the problems without believing that one size will fit all.  Be legal, ethical and honest in your application of the rules without losing the bearings on you moral compass.  You may find it convenient to operate in the white space where the rules are silent.
  • Model the Way: Let people see in you what you want them to be and how you want them to handle the moment.  Be authentic; own your thoughts or emotions and share the information you have which affects them.  Search for answers to their questions and be willing to stick your neck out for them.
  • Find Things to Celebrate or Reasons to Laugh:  Give people a chance to feel appreciated, competent, that they matter, and that their contributions are valued. Take time to laugh; laughter can be healing. There’s already too much heaviness.
  • Give Crisp and Honest Feedback: Let people know your expectations, where they stand, and what they need to be doing.  Continue to hold them accountable for performance and their impact on the environment. Give feedback with options for sustaining positive energy and movement in the moment rather than putting it off.  However, be careful to assign the appropriate weight to things that matter.  Don’t major in minor things.

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