Once a federal employee becomes emotionally exhausted, “there is little a supervisor can do to influence that employee’s desire to remain on the job,” a new MSPB publication says.

MSPB noted that it has previously reported on the issue of “emotional labor” in the federal workplace, the effort that must apply to suppress their private feelings in order to carry on with their work. Suppressing those feelings can in turn lead to emotional exhaustion, which can then reduce job performance, it said, adding that many federal occupations–such as the emergency management, medical, and social services fields–involve emotionally demanding work.

More recently, an MSPB survey asked employees about that issue, how supervisors treat them and their intent to leave federal service. “Not surprisingly, we found that employees who had favorable perceptions of their supervisors also reported lower levels of EE and were less likely to report wanting to leave federal service than employees with unfavorable impressions of their supervisors.”

For example, among employees who do not consider themselves emotionally exhausted, “the supervisor’s treatment substantially influences their desire to leave government”; courteous and respectful supervisors dramatically reduce their intentions to leave. However, for employees with the highest levels of exhaustion, “supervisors’ actions, whether positive or negative, made little difference” regarding their desire to leave, it said. The effect was the same regarding whether employees leave work feeling tired and run down and whether they feel their job is hardening them emotionally, it added.

Steps a supervisor can take to “give support or relief to the emotionally weary before it’s too late” include: show employees regular appreciation for their efforts, whether through official awards, nonmonetary awards, or simple expressions of gratitude; don’t require employees to be warm and cheerful when customers are being rude; provide both emotional and professional support when an employee is being subjected to abusive behavior by the customer; and communicate regularly with employees to gauge their state of mind and determine what can be done to help.