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Employee Satisfaction: What Goes Around Comes Around

Beautiful business woman high fiving colleague during meeting
Happy employees are goodwill ambassadors for your brand, whether it’s selling a product or delivering public service. In his book “Extreme Government Makeover,” Ken Miller describes how improvements in the systems that streamline workflow result in “better, faster, cheaper” public services.

Further evidence of the significance of satisfied employees to a positive bottom line was reported in American Public Media’s Marketplace commentary in July. Teresa Amabile, Harvard Business School professor and the article’s author, says “many…leaders undervalue respect. When faced with an employee's mistake, far too many rake the person over the coals. Research shows that respecting employees can help drive the bottom line upward. Doing the opposite can drive an enterprise into the ground.”

In a recent article on citing the worst companies to work for, one frequent consequence of employee dissatisfaction was poor customer service, which in turn resulted in financial losses for the company. Unhappy employees make for unhappy customers:  “the terrible relationship these companies have with their employees often extends to their clientele as well. Most of the companies on this list are in industries that do poorly on customer satisfaction surveys,” the article said. Some, like Sears and Radio Shack, frequently appear on lists of businesses predicted to soon disappear. While city halls or county courthouses don’t suffer direct financial losses as a result of poor constituent relationships, the indirect consequences can damage the agency’s reputation enough to be felt when you need voter support.

Reasons often cited at the core of employee dissatisfaction include archaic systems, disconnected management, years of layoffs, bad public relations, and high management turnover. Most of these factors sound an awful lot like the issues lately being faced by the employees in public sector organizations.

What does this mean for public sector managers? Treat your staff with respect. In a political and economic environment where there is small chance for any significant increase in compensation for public employees, look to the research cited by Miller in his book - that compensation isn’t an effective motivator anyway. The majority of public employees are motivated by a desire to make a difference. You can have the greatest effect by attacking the de-motivators that frustrate and impede your employees’ ability to do the jobs they want to do. Doing so will give them the best environment in which to improve their productivity and deliver better public service, often at little or no cost. That’s within your power regardless of what the economic or political barometer reads.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Lynn Nordby

About Lynn Nordby

Lynn’s public sector career included over 30 years in local government management and experience in virtually all municipal services including the operations of a wide variety of municipal utilities. He is now retired.