We the Partnership

How the Peace Corps is welcoming back employees after the lapse in appropriations

By Traci DiMartini
January 28, 2019 | Updated on July 1, 2021

The Peace Corps is a government agency that thrives on personal interactions and strong esprit de corps. Peace Corps employees, like many others throughout the government, are passionately committed to the mission and work of the agency. During the recent lapse in appropriations, Peace Corps leadership spent time and effort discussing how best to welcome employees back to the office. Below are some tips developed for our management team.

  1. Set realistic expectations and clear priorities. It can be easy to think employees can jump in and plow through weeks of unanswered emails, voicemails and assignments. However, it’s important to remember that this was a challenging time for many employees. Leaders can help avoid employee burnout by taking the time to listen to staff and pay attention to their cues as they return to the office. Some employees have mentioned having “furlough fog” after weeks away from their office routine. It’s important to give staff time to work through the backlog, reconnect with colleagues and breathe a sigh of relief.
  2. Be present and authentic. The Peace Corps will host a town hall for all staff one week after we return to work. Our director wants to reinforce our thanks to everyone and make sure employees have time to ask questions and receive vital information about their work priorities. We are also encouraging senior leaders to spend the first two weeks being very visible and present in the office. We want employees to have every opportunity to be seen and heard and know that their managers and leadership team are here for them.
  3. Prioritize employee engagement: It’s not just a phrase! It’s a privilege to work for an agency that places a high priority on staff morale and engagement. The Peace Corps is a relatively small agency with a huge heart, and as a leader it is important to be present and authentic. We are recommending managers acknowledge and greet each staff member on their team to the extent they feel is comfortable and appropriate. Personal interactions are key—they should not be replaced with mass emails or generic messages. Whether it’s a note on their desk, a personal email or a quick visit to say hello and ask how they are feeling, employees want to feel seen and heard by their supervisors as they come back to the office. Yes, getting the work done is a priority. Nothing, however, is more important than showing true interest and care for your most valuable resource: your employees.
  4. Words matter! Managers and leaders should be encouraged to ask questions and communicate with staff even if they are unsure what to say. We want employees to know we are available and here for them. Nothing should be prioritized above helping staff have a smooth transition back to the office. It’s important to share information, help prioritize work, reinforce the value of their work to the team and, most critically, thank everyone for their service. There is nothing more important to the federal service than our employees. Now is the time to make sure they feel the respect and gratitude they deserve.

Traci DiMartini is the Peace Corps’ chief human capital officer.