One of the largest challenge that the bureaucracy face when it comes to managing staff is dealing with burn-out, and creating the right motivations. There’s always this presumption that staff would be motivated to serve the public, and to uphold their role, to deal with emotional distress by themselves. Managers who rose from being excellent individual contributors can do better with supporting their staff and teams during this pandemic and mental health crisis.
Part of it involves making genuine connections with their staff. For the longest time, I’ve seen how bosses’ solution to employees’ burn-out was to ‘keep calm and carry on’. I don’t think stoicism is categorically wrong but it doesn’t fully account for our psychological make-up. Public-serving work involves a lot of emotional labour; and to a large extent, the inability to help employees steward their emotional resources is really poor management. By being more than just a boss, but also a friend, a coach and a counsellor to a staff, managers are actually managing the actual resources that is required to carry out the work that public service entails.
We tend to think that public resources are just tax-payers’ money and public infrastructures. If we want to really be good stewards of public resources, it should be about taking good care of the emotional and mental health of our public servants. Are our permanent secretaries, statutory board CEOs really taking care of our people? Or are we just busy trying to make numbers that ‘serve the public’?