How to survive a government job


“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” When former President Ronald Reagan called them “the nine most terrifying words in the English language,” he may not have thought of firefighters, nurses, counselors, or FEMA personnel, until county courthouse clerk – most of whom work as tirelessly as possible to make a positive difference for the public.

A government job does indeed offer a chance to work for a greater common good, but it can come at a cost. You can find yourself drowning in a sea of ​​rules and regulations – and not always see immediate results from your work, according to Public Service Partnership, a non-profit organization whose goal is to help improve government. Add to that a constant dose of public scrutiny and the stress of a government shutdown or furlough, and every day can start to feel like a struggle.

Lura Adena Winn knows some of these challenges from her work at Department of Veterans Affairs in Seattle, where she has been a professional counselor for 10 years. Still, she loves her job and has found strategies to deal with a huge workload and constant change.

Winn says she survived by making sure she did her best every day and always left on time, no matter how many files were teetering on the desk. This is often easier said than done. Outside of work, she has interesting and fulfilling hobbies. “The better your life outside of work, the better you can manage those 40 hours,” says Winn.

And when times get tough at the office? “Follow the changes and remember the mission, which is to help people,” says Winn. “I have to remind myself that I might be the only person a veteran ends up talking to.”

She also avoids office politics, often apologizing with a joke to avoid any drama at work.

What makes things so chaotic, or interesting depending on your perspective, may be a hierarchical government structure that often includes more than one supervisor. Or as Scott Eblin, a Los Angeles-based executive career coach and author of “The Next Level,” a leadership book, puts it: a “mixture of dotted lines, solid lines, and no lines in the flowchart. “.

There can be an overabundance of bosses, often creating confusion, and at the same time not enough resources to do the job effectively. So employees who are good at navigating bureaucratic paperwork can become the go-to people taking on far too many projects. They can quickly become overloaded, sometimes sacrificing their health due to the demands of the job.

Whether in management or working directly with the public, Eblin recommends creating a strategy to “manage yourself first” when faced with work that can feel overwhelming. “Many government workers are in a chronic ‘fight or flight’ state and their sympathetic nervous systems are in overdrive,” he says. That doesn’t make good decisions.

This can help engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which acts as a brake for an accelerated nervous system. “Once an hour, get up and step away from the computer and move the body to reduce stress and blood pressure,” says Eblin. After a few deep breaths, everything starts to move in the right direction again.

You may also need to redefine success, suggests Eblin. Take a minute and look at the next thing on the timeline and ask yourself, if I’m successful, what does it look like? For government officials, success probably means they’ve improved things a bit, even if it takes a while to see those results.

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