That’s a bright idea: Engaging employees and customers at the Department of Labor
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That’s a bright idea: Engaging employees and customers at the Department of Labor

August 2, 2023 | Updated on October 26, 2023

Improving the experiences of federal employees can lead to better experiences for federal customers, according to “The good government connection: Linking the federal employee and customer experiences,” a new report from the Partnership for Public Service with support from Medallia. The report highlights how federal employees’ commitment to public service and their agency’s mission can be harnessed to improve the customer experience.  

One exemplary case of this strategy in action can be found at the Department of Labor’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation, which provides financial support to current or former employees of the Department of Energy and some of its private-sector partners for illnesses that are causally linked to radiation and other toxic exposures on the job.  

Engaging claims examiners 

Doug Pennington—the division’s deputy director, and customer experience and high-impact service provider lead—and team members approached the connection between the employee and customer experience from his work fostering employee engagement.  

Pennington and team found that many claims examiners in his office, who make decisions about benefits for sick individuals covered by the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, were disconnected from the division’s mission.  

In turn, he and senior leaders organized employee engagement teams and held routine meetings between staff and agency leaders to foster transparency about decision-making and discussions about agency goals, enabling employees to share their views. Over time, this two-way communication helped connect employees to the mission and improve employee engagement.  

Pennington and the program’s customer experience team then surveyed customers, finding evidence that these efforts led to better employee performance and that staff were providing good customer experiences—even when giving bad news by denying claims. 

Elevating ‘bright ideas’ 

Recognizing that staff were not only subject matter experts and passionate about their work, but also more likely to facilitate better customer experiences when having a stake in “what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how we need to be doing it,” Pennington and the division’s senior program leadership team developed the Bright Ideas program.  

Through the program, staff at any level may share policy, program or process ideas—and what it would take to realize them—with senior leaders of the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation.​ ​Ideas are submitted via an online form, and each one is reviewed and responded to, even if it can’t be implemented. This ensures that “nobody’s opinions, nobody’s thoughts [and] nobody’s idea​s​ will fall into a black hole,” Pennington said. 

Ideas deemed viable are developed into a comprehensive proposal by the person who initially shared it, with support from a subject matter expert if necessary. Leaders recognize the employees behind all bright ideas that are fully or partially implemented through financial and other awards, incentivizing staff to continue to speak up and share their suggestions. 

By providing employees with the space to channel their know-how and passion into improving the agency, Pennington and his team are improving both the employee and customer experience in their office, recognizing the contributions of staff and motivating them to better serve the public.  

Leaders can be effective in engaging their workforce in many ways, but it all starts with listening and giving employees a​n opportunity ​to shine.  

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