For people who work hard to make government work, we live in frightening, uncertain times. Even small messages and signals to the people who do the day-to-day work are important.
Recently we had an employee in my department (Department of Information Technology – DoIT, City of Seattle) whose card key was shut off to get to a certain floor after hours. It was inadvertent and an oversight – we were just trying to remove after hours access for anyone who really didn’t need it. “Enhancing physical security”.
But this employee immediately became frightened for his job – “are they planning to lay me off?” was the first thought he had.
Even small signals are important.
I try to smile and greet each employee as I see them walking through the hallways or in work spaces. I am very intentional about this.
First, I have a genuine respect and admiration for the people in DoIT – and around the City of Seattle – who make government run. But also I just enjoy talking to people and hearing their stories. I know the first name of every employee in DoIT, and many other IT employees throughout City government, and I’m genuinely concerned about them, their families and their work.
Sometimes I forget, however, and I’m lost in thought, and I walk down the hallway scowling and forgetting to say hello. Employees can interpret that as “the boss is mad at me”, when, really, I’m just thinking about an especially difficult meeting I recent had, or a thorny problem I have to solve.
These are frightening times.
City government revenues are down, positions are being cut, and employees are being laid off. We have more difficulties coming down the road, and there is a significant amount of FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt in the air. All you have to do is read Publicola, the local scandal sheet (now known as a “blog”) to see the facts and hear the rumors about this.
Yes, I know that I and other department directors will be faced with more cuts and more difficult decisions in the coming months. I am really hoping that the next budget process will be the last time we are cutting and we can stabilize the government after that. I’m a “glass half full” guy.
Nevertheless I lose a lot of sleep and spend a lot of time worrying about these issues and the effects of cuts on employees and their families. And, even more importantly, on the health and well-being of the 600,000 people who live in Seattle and depend upon their government for safety, utilities and quality of life.
My lost sleep is irrelevant, of course – if I’m not here, the facts of the budget situation are still the same, and the cuts will still come, but it will just be someone else making the decision.
So if I scowl at you as I walk down the hallway, please don’t take it personally. I’m just puzzling over that next difficult decision.