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Acknowledging Appreciation in Our Teams

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sarah Sweeney
April 28, 2023

Public Service Recognition Week (May 7-13) is a time to reflect on why we are drawn to this field of practice and how, as Public Administrators, we might support and engage the next generation of leaders. So often we get bogged down with the day to day operations of our work that we sometimes forget to recognize and acknowledge the good work our staff provides to the public we serve. No matter the area of specialization within public administration, it can be said that public servants are an essential workforce, and through the tireless efforts of our counterparts across the country, we can improve the quality of public services that we wish to see throughout future generations. In his Proclamation on Public Service Recognition Week 2022, President Biden noted that public servants are the lifeblood of democracy and reflect forward the promise of a government “by and for the people”. This is an important tenet of the practice of public administration and a wonderful reminder of why we do this work.

Since its creation in 1985, Public Service Recognition Week has celebrated the contributions of government and public employees across the nation in an effort to bring awareness and appreciation to those in public service. As a professional in this field with front line experience, I understand the importance of recognition for a job well done; especially when so much of what we do is thankless. In human services we work day in and day out, serving the needs of those in potentially destitute situations; responding to requests for services that are sometimes in high demand. This may lead to high stress and low tolerance situations where customers become agitated and incapable of appreciation. It is in these moments that we tend to become jaded or burnt out by these interactions and can lead to feelings of resentment or wanting to simply give up. As managers and leaders it is important we counteract this sense of hopelessness by offering support and engagement to our staff so they know and understand they are not alone in this process but that they are truly appreciated and needed.

Just today I had the privilege of nominating two coworkers for an award focused on staff who are compassionate, honest, have integrity, empathy and courage; and I took the opportunity to gush all about the impact they’ve had on my career. I hope they are recognized for the efforts they put forth every day and win the award because they absolutely deserve it. I look up to them as mentors and guides through my own professional development journey, and I hope that I am the type of leader that inspires growth in my own team. After submitting my nominations I thought about how I might recognize my own staff as we approach public service recognition week, simply because they too deserve to be acknowledged and appreciated for the hard work they perform daily. As a manager I understand the importance of saying “thank you” as often as possible because we don’t really hear that very often in this line of work. However with a national week of celebration quickly approaching, I find it necessary to do something special so they really know I’m thinking and caring about them as their boss. It is fascinating to me how the culture of public services has arrived in a space of thanklessness, for the work we all do each and every day is so vitally important for the success of our future.

If you are wondering what you can do to recognize your staff, team or colleagues during Public Service Recognition week, I encourage you to see what your agencies have done in the past or consider new opportunities to revitalize or refresh recognition programming. Your local or state governments, even community-based agencies, might have virtual toolkits you can utilize in your practice. The National Institute of Health has some ideas on how to celebrate the good work our staff is doing and I encourage you to try something new! In a world where we’ve become distanced through virtual platforms, Public Service Recognition Week is an opportunity to bring our teams back together and build strong bonds between workers. Leadership takes dedication and creativity to keep things fresh and revitalized so that staff understand they are valued members of the organization, because without them we can’t succeed in meeting our goals and mission in public service.

Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and public administrator in Washington State.  She may be contacted at [email protected]

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