Empowering front-line staff with trauma-informed care at the Department of Housing and Urban Development
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Empowering front-line staff with trauma-informed care at the Department of Housing and Urban Development

August 9, 2023 | Updated on August 14, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic strained many government service providers with an increase of Americans in crisis seeking out services needed to provide for themselves and their families. 

In order to deliver this high-stakes customer experience to the nation, our government service providers need good leadership to support frontline staff in managing these challenges. 

In a new research report, “The Good Government Connection: Linking the Federal Employee and Customer Experiences,” the Partnership for Public Service, with support from Medallia, explores how the experiences of federal employees influence the experiences of federal customers. As part of the study behind the report, we heard stories from federal leaders about innovative ways they have prioritized and implemented meaningful improvements for both their employees and customers.  

One example of high-stakes customer experience was shared by Michele Perez, the assistant deputy secretary of the Office of Field Policy and Management at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.   

The Office of Field Policy and Management serves as the front door to HUD’s services in many communities around the country, consisting of 64 local field offices that receive inquiries from citizens in-person, over the phone, and online. During COVID-19 Perez saw how the pandemic strained its frontline staff. 

Local field offices experienced a sharp rise in people seeking help with housing problems. Many were in crisis—struggling with the economic, emotional and social strains of living through the public health emergency—with some “experiencing homelessness or trying to escape domestic violence” and other extremely vulnerable situations, according to Perez.  

But field office employees were not sufficiently prepared to provide crisis support. 

Perez and her team quickly recognized the need to invest time and energy in training front-line employees on what it means to deliver trauma-informed care, a strategy of working with people in crisis designed to cultivate safe spaces of service delivery. 

The approach benefits service providers by being better equipped “to be responsive and patient, to be respectful and dignified” with people in crisis, Perez said. It also enables public servants to navigate the stress of working in crisis environments, and to recognize and mitigate the vicarious trauma these conversations can cause. 

Perez and her team brought in specialists to provide employees with strategies to care for themselves as they support customers in challenging situations. Training sessions were optional for employees but mandatory for supervisors, who learned how to support team members working with people experiencing trauma.  

The trauma-informed care trainings were well attended and led to better experiences for frontline staff within HUD’s Office of Field Policy and Management. According to Perez, these opportunities resulted in more compassionate and effective delivery of critical government services to people in need. 

Michele Perez’s leadership is an example of how to support a federal workforce in ways that maintain positive employee and customer experiences in difficult times. Her story shows that leaders need to proactively understand and meet the needs of their staff.  

“Exclusively offering an employee assistance program is not the answer,” she said. “Management must do more to demonstrate our commitment to the wellbeing of our workforce, which is integrally connected to our support of and wellbeing of the people we serve.”  

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