26 July 2023

Here’s How to Support NGOs & Government Employees To Feel Better

Private and publicly traded companies often get the spotlight regarding their employee wellness ratings, but what about government-funded or non-profit organizations? This article highlights government workers’ troubling challenges and how these institutions can reverse those trends. 

The work experiences of firefighters, police officers, and other first responders and public servants consistently have resulted in these groups having reduced mental health, performance, and engagement than private sector employees. And it's no surprise why; here are just a handful of variables faced by a majority of public servants:

  • Exposure to trauma. Public servants are often exposed to situations that can cause psychological trauma. Whether it's violence, death, injury, or emotionally tolling situations, it's not uncommon for public servants to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems.
  • Work-life balance challenges. Public servants often have to work long hours and be on call 24/7 for many government sectors. This makes burnout and disconnection common among these individuals, making managing their stress and maintaining a work-life balance even harder.
  • Lack of resources. Public servants often have fewer resources at their disposal than private sector employees. This can make it difficult to do their job effectively and get the help they need for mental health problems, performance issues, or other challenges.
  • Culture of silence. There is often a culture of silence in government institutions, where speaking up about mental health problems or similar challenges is not encouraged. This can make it difficult for employees to get the help they need, leading to further burnout, performance issues, and engagement.

These variables have long-term effects on the overall wellbeing of those who serve our communities. Here are some specific examples of studies that have found lower mental health, performance, and engagement among public servants:

  • A 2022 study by the National Institutes of Health found that firefighters have a higher rate of PTSD than the general population.
  • A similar study on police officers reported much higher rates of depression, burnout, PTSD, and anxiety than the general population. Despite this, though, less than 20% of police officers with confirmed mental health issues sought out services.
  • A poll conducted by CPS HR Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement found that only 38% of public sector employees consider themselves fully engaged at work, with a majority reporting being dissatisfied with their role.

These studies show a clear need for government institutions to improve their employees’ mental health, performance, and engagement. Luckily, they don't need to reinvent the wheel regarding employee wellness. By learning from companies and taking steps to address the challenges public servants face, government institutions can learn a great deal from companies regarding employee engagement, wellness, and performance. Here are some of the most impactful lessons government institutions can learn from companies:

  • Create a culture of employee ownership. Companies with a strong employee ownership culture empower their employees to make decisions and take ownership of their work. This leads to increased engagement and a sense of purpose, which can positively impact performance. Government institutions can create a culture of employee ownership by giving employees more autonomy, allowing for more flexible schedules or working-from-home arrangements, providing them with opportunities for professional development, and rewarding them for their contributions.
  • Invest in employee wellness. Companies that invest in employee wellness offer their employees a variety of resources to help them stay healthy and well. This includes access to mental and physical health resources and a culture that encourages setting boundaries and incentivizes employees to take better care of themselves.
  • Measure and track employee engagement. Companies that measure and track employee engagement, spliced by different identities, can identify areas where they need to improve. This information can then be used to develop and implement targeted interventions. Even better, after conducting employee surveys and focus groups, institutions can share the results with their employees to promote transparency and accountability. 
  • Creating a sense of community. Employees who feel connected to their colleagues and organization are likelier to be engaged and productive. Government institutions can create a sense of community by organizing social events, promoting employee volunteerism, and fostering a culture of collaboration.
  • Encouraging employees to reach out for support. Leaders within government institutions can lead by example and progressively instill a work culture that makes it safe and even encourage employees to ask for mental health support or other resources related to their wellbeing. 

Given the working conditions and experiences of government employees, there is a clear need for government institutions to improve employee engagement, wellness, and culture. By looking at what private sector companies are doing and adapting those strategies for the public sector, government institutions can create a more positive and productive work environment for their employees.

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