QThe political discussion in my area is taking an anti-public-employee tone. As the leader of a team of people who supply a low-glamour but essential public service, it can be hard to maintain morale. What steps might I take to help keep us all engaged?
AMaintain your belief in the value of the services you provide, and bolster those on your team, while looking for ways to build support.
The inner game
Start close to home: is your personal morale flagging? If so, recognize it, and make a commitment to yourself to establish a sense of personal mission to help you rebuild your energy. Notice any emotions you have -- anger, fear, frustration. Take some deep breaths, and accept your feelings while also releasing them so that they don't drive your next steps.
Moving outward, reflect on your team's feelings, bringing empathy from your own experience. Consider ways that their morale could be improved, with special emphasis on steps that you, yourself, could take to help them. Also identify ways that your organization could help you maintain your team's morale.
Then think about the reasons you and your colleagues work in the public sector. Make a list of the contributions you make. It may be easier to do if you list all the ways your community would be different if your team didn't exist. You may also want to gather some information from leaders of other teams about the benefits they get from your group to broaden your perspective.
Finally, create a vision for your ideal team morale, and what it would look and feel like to have an optimally engaged and committed group working on your common goals.
The outer game
Often low morale is not talked about, and negativity can become pervasive. You can combat that by opening communication with your team. In particular, identifying that the tone of public discourse can be painful will validate people's feelings and lead to greater esprit de corps.
Try using your staff meetings to have some "pickup" time, perhaps having discussions about the value of your team, replicating the thinking you did yourself, and having everyone brainstorm ways you make a difference. Also promote a culture of appreciation within your team; even if others aren't acknowledging you, it can help to hear it from those around you.
Thinking more broadly, it's likely that colleagues on other teams are having the same experience. This may present an opportunity for a broader support network and richer recognition programs. Reach out to your peers and make a plan to address this issue on a wider scale.
Finally, encourage your team to take action. Taking the time to write a letter to the editor or call a legislator to state your point of view can be very empowering, and having a clear view of the value you bring makes it easier to defend yourselves in a rational way if the topic comes up in conversation (as these things often do).
The last word
It's hard to stay upbeat in the face of public criticism; however, working as a team will help you maintain morale despite this challenge.