Furlough survival guide for managers

Experts offer management tips

Although talk of a possible furlough for federal employees has been overshadowed recently by fears of a government shutdown and other worries, the possibility is still on the table.  

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) introduced a bill in January that would impose a nonconsecutive two-week furlough on federal workers in fiscal 2012. Coffman said  about his bill (H.R. 270) that furloughs are “becoming commonplace for states and local governments, and it’s only reasonable for the federal government follow suit. At least 24 states have enacted similar budget-cutting measures."


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Coffman’s bill is languishing in committee with no co-sponsors, but even so, the federal workforce appears to be a target of choice for members of Congress looking to trim agency budgets, so it's still possible that Coffman's furlough plan or one similar to it will become reality.

Jessica Klement, government affairs director at the Federal Managers Association, said her organization has been getting lots of concerned calls regarding furloughs from its members, which mostly consists of first and second-line supervisors.

“They are not getting answers from their agencies,” Klement said. “They want to know ‘what if.' ”

If employees were furloughed for two weeks, the responsibility to ensure agency missions are still met would mostly fall on the shoulders of federal managers. So, how do managers deal with their employees being furloughed? Here are some tips.

Prepare ahead of time. Jon Desenberg, a senior policy director at the Performance Institute, said managers should use knowledge management principles, such as getting an understanding of the expertise in their organization and who holds it. Desenberg called this the “yellow pages approach,” explaining that agencies should create written profiles of its experts and file them in a competency library.

The library could also include videos of people, or experts, explaining certain processes, so that if that person is gone for a time period, the process can still be completed. Similarly, if there is a part of an agency that only has one employee, it would make sense to have someone shadow that person, again, in case he or she is out due to a furlough, Desenberg said.

Alan Balutis, a director of Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group and former CIO at the Commerce Department, said many federal managers aren’t accustomed to having to deal with things in this way – laying out their plan for the next two or three quarters – but it would be necessary if employees are required to take unpaid leave.

Balutis said managers must chart their key deliverables at certain points of time, make note of when they are most busy or the slowest. This strategic type of thinking also means communicating with colleagues, customers and your employees on a regular basis, he said.

Get facts and communicate. John Palguta, vice president of policy at the Partnership for Public Service, said employees would also be unsure how to proceed, and good managers would find out and communicate the information.Question-and-answer sessions can go a long way toward relieving employees' anxieties, Palguta said.

Find out about flexibilities. Depending on the specific rules put into place concerning a furlough, managers might have some options such as allowing an employee to volunteer to take another employee’s furlough days, which some might offer to do if they're more financially able, Palguta said.

Priotitize. Work will get backlogged during a furlough, so managers need to decide which projects “would have the least impact on our mission, if we let it slide or put it on the shelf,” Palguta said. 

 

About the Author

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.

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