Motivating government workers in difficult times

As the financial crisis in America persists, government positions are being cut, experienced and productive government workers are leaving for the private sector and work is being reassigned to an increasingly overloaded workforce, causing motivation to spiral downward.

Jackson Nickerson

What is different in the current crisis is that some say fiscal pressure may persist for a decade or more. How can worker motivation in government positions not hit bottom?

Jackson Nickerson, PhD, the Frahm Family Professor of Organization and Strategy at Washington University’s Olin Business School, suggests employee motivation comes from three different sources: economic, social and emotional and ideological.

“To be sure, keeping your workforce motivated to deliver first class service must seem like being between a rock and a hard place,” says Nickerson, associate dean and director of Brookings Executive Education, in a recent forum in Government Executive magazine.

“Yet through your imagination and creativity you can make headway on retaining your high performing workforce by leveraging these three sources of motivation. With the importance of intelligence analysis, our nation depends on it.”

Nickerson’s column is available at