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Over the years we have written many stories about cases that sprang up when federal workers found themselves jammed up by on-the-job disputes. This has led to many “post game” discussions among us. Much of what we have learned can be broken down to some simple observations. And that is just what we attempt to do with this report. We have found that many of these unfortunate (and, yes, expensive and painful) lessons easily could have been avoided by keeping a few simple things in mind. We have written this primarily with you managers and supervisors in mind, since you are the first line in defending the federal merit system and protecting your employees. We hope this might help you keep you out of administrative and/or legal quicksand.
Collectively, through some of our nations’ darkest hours, you have kept the government’s furnace hot and efficient by managing Uncle Sam’s work force well; taking care of your “troops” and making sure they were able to their jobs for the good of our nation. Occasionally, supervisors and managers, well, “step into it,” and find trouble – sometimes big trouble that defies simple solutions. A very few get fired. But most who wander into the path of a disciplinary bus just wind up involved in months, and sometimes years, of bitter personnel battles. You can skirt these problems easily by avoiding a dozen “deadly sins.” (Remember, there is nothing “common” about common sense.) There always will be tension between those in charge and those supervised by them. One of our favorite sayings when we talk to federal employee groups is: “I’ve never met a federal employee I didn’t like. (long pause) But I’ll bet you have!” Invariably, that results in knowing nods and nervous laughter. So, here they are:
1) Partiality Be fair. Not as easy as it seems. You will like some employees better than others. Some will make it clear they like you better than others. Good teachers learn this early. Being fair means everybody must follow the same rules. A key to military training is to treat all recruits the same. Of course, you do not need to be a drill sergeant, but make sure your workers know you are trying to be fair.
2) Sloppy Record-Keeping Keep good records when documenting personnel actions – especially an employee’s serious misbehavior.