After 16 days of government shut-down, feelings of rejection and resentment are sure to impact those government employees who are now returning to work. What should their managers do?

Although government communications to employees tried to substitute the terms essential and non-essential with exempt and non-exempt, the message to the many thousands of government employees who were sent home because of the shut-down was clear—we can do without you for now. It is hard to imagine any company labeling its employees non-essential without it impacting those employees' performance, motivation, and their overall feelings about their job. Indeed, after being labeled in such a way and sent home for over two weeks without pay, returning government employees will be nursing feelings of rejection, anger, and resentment.

Getting rejected always hurts (read Ten Surprising Facts about Rejection here). In addition to the emotional pain rejection causes, it creates other psychological wounds; it bruises our ego and damages our self-esteem, it fosters anger and aggression, and it makes us feel unsettled about whether we ‘belong’. Although returning government employees might feel some relief about getting their jobs and paychecks back, it is unlikely to be enough to soothe the negative feelings they’ve experienced for the past 16 days.

In addition to the psychological wounds mentioned above, returning employees are also likely to experience a drop in motivation, morale, work ethic, and institutional loyalty. How quickly they recover from these emotional wounds will depend on how well their supervisors and managers address these feelings, if they do so at all.

How Managers and Leaders Should Address the Feelings of Returning Employees

1. Convey Reassurance: Team leaders, supervisors, and managers should immediately take time to gather their employees and communicate reassurance to them. Specifically, they need to convey that despite governmental definitions, the returning employees are and always have been valued and needed, and that they were very much missed.

2. Make Them Feel Welcomed: Team leaders, supervisors, and managers should do everything in their power to make returning employees feel welcomed and help them reintegrate back into the workplace. This would be a great time to spend the petty cash on some pizza and soda for everyone. Personal handshakes would also go a long way.

3. Be Prepared to Listen: Team leaders, supervisors, and managers should be open to listening to returning employees who need to voice their feelings and they should make every effort to validate the feelings employees express (e.g., “I completely understand why you feel that way.”). It is vital to allow returning employees to feel heard—as they have not felt heard or important for the past 16 days.

4. Ease Tensions: Team leaders, supervisors, and managers should be aware of potential tensions between returning employees and the ‘essential’ employees who remained on the job. Essential employees probably carried heavier loads and responsibilities over this period, and they are likely to have their own frustrations and resentment about the situation. Nonetheless, it is crucial that leaders, supervisors, and managers do their best to erase any divides that were created between the two groups and facilitate a reintegration.

5. Have Patience: It takes time to get over feelings of rejection, especially when the rejection was both very public, and had financial implications. Team leaders, supervisors, and managers should assume it will take time for things to return to normal and for employees to recover their previous levels of motivation and productivity, and they should exhibit patience whenever it is possible to do so.

For more about how to overcome the wounds of rejection, check out Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries (Hudson Street Press, 2013).

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Copyright 2013 Guy Winch

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