Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Can Improved Internal Transparency Reduce Stress from Inevitable Federal Staff Reductions?

By Dennis D. McDonald

In Preparing your agency for big cuts ahead, Tom Fox wrote this about the coming Federal agency staff reductions:

Kill the rumor mill. Agencies have well-developed rumor mills, and I’ve heard from many federal employees that the anxiety and frustrations associated with the budget uncertainties is high. While water cooler gossip is inevitable, as a federal manager you can try and minimize this by being the primary source of accurate information. Use your weekly team meetings, one-on-one check-ins and even a weekly email to set the record straight about what’s known and unknown.

To this I’d add the recommendation that you use your intranet, internal web sites, and internal blogs to head off and respond to misinformation and rumors. You may even need go so far as to allow staff to let off steam by communicating their frustration and fear openly online via available social networks. And be sure when you see a comment or question posted, regardless whether the post is made on official or public networks, get it answered ASAP before misinformation festers.

I’ve been through staff reductions myself, both as an employee of restructuring organizations, and as a manager responsible for developing a merged computer system where staff reductions had to take place as a justification of the new integrated system. In both cases the stress caused by a lack of information was palpable. In some cases this stress was manipulated by the politically astute who used the situation to improve their own situation at the expense of others.

Admittedly, being open and honest about layoffs that you know will inevitably harm families and children is hard. But the sooner you’re honest about what’s going on, the sooner misinformation and false hope will be dispelled.

Another suggestion: don’t tell people that “nothing will change” or that there will be “business as usual” following the firings and layoffs. If you’re a manager you’ll just look stupid. There are going to be fewer people to do the work. Resolve now, not later, to figure out what you’re going to do about that.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Dennis D. McDonald. Contact Dennis via email at For more articles related to this topic see the following:


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