Managing the Federal Employee: Discipline and Performance Process

Brookings Institution

Brookings Institution


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Who should attend

  • Federal supervisors and managers
  • Agency attorneys
  • Human resource specialists
  • Internal investigators
  • Auditors

About the course

In this lively program, you will learn practical tools to expertly manage discipline and performance issues among your employees. Employee satisfaction surveys consistently report more than 25 percent of the workforce is underperforming, making it vital for managers to successfully resolve performance issues.

Learn the basics of federal personnel employment law that relate to performance. Develop a new ability to handle your most difficult employment issues, boost morale in the workplace, improve productivity, and avoid damaging lawsuits.


  • Human capital management
  • Accountability

Brookings Executive Education sat down with the program instructor, Robin Wink, to discuss some of the challenges facing federal managers today. Bringing more than twenty years of experience in management and legal representation, Robin shared her valuable insight and expertise with our staff.

*What are some of the greatest challenges facing federal managers in the current government climate? *

Managers are continuously being asked to do more with less. In the current climate, many managers have already been asked to cut their budgets and consider hiring freezes. This puts a premium on getting the very best out of each employee. Managers must simultaneously focus on motivation and accountability. Take time to thank your employees who are doing a good job. And, when employees are not supporting the mission through their performance and conduct, the manager must be quick to deal with this as well. In this environment, managers cannot afford to ignore personnel problems; they must set clear expectations and counsel employees when they are not meeting those expectations.

As leaders, how can federal managers keep employees motivated, particularly when they have been in a similar job for some time?

The key to keeping employees motivated is often in the small day-to-day things rather than some grand awards program—say thank you, acknowledge emails, and communicate. Studies of human behavior indicate that employees are not as motivated by monetary rewards as many people assume. Managers can keep employees motivated and engaged through several methods. First, make sure employees know the importance of their job – specifically how their actions contribute to mission accomplishment. Second, the boss needs to communicate about what is going on and keep employees engaged. Employees do not thrive in a vacuum. Finally, the boss can set the example by consciously choosing to approach each day with a positive attitude and keeping promises to employees. When the boss is down or frustrated, or doesn’t keep promises, it’s hard for the employees to stay motivated!

What are the first steps to take in dealing with an insubordinate employee?

When we talk about an “insubordinate” employee, we’re talking about one who is intentionally refusing to follow the boss’s orders or complete specific requirements of the job. The boss must confront the employee and tell the employee in no uncertain terms that he or she is not allowed to pick and choose which orders to follow and which tasks to complete. If that direct conversation does not change the employee’s approach, then swift disciplinary action should follow. Nothing undermines a team’s ability to complete a mission more than when one or more employees refuse to participate and accomplish their assigned tasks.

When seeking disciplinary action, how can managers achieve their primary goal of changing the employee's behavior rather than just punishing the employee?

The primary goal of every disciplinary action, except removal, is to change the employee’s behavior. The boss should have that in mind and clearly communicate that to the employee throughout the disciplinary process. The employee should know that in the boss’s eyes, if the employee heeds the lesson and changes, the employee has an opportunity to be rehabilitated and once again make a positive contribution to the team and mission. After that, it’s really up to the employee to decide whether to change. If the employee does make an effort to change, recognize it. On the other hand, if the employee continues in the old troublesome ways, the boss needs to follow through with measured and increasingly severe discipline.

When adapting to managing tele-workers, what are some of the unique challenges that federal managers can anticipate?

One of the biggest challenges managers need to overcome with tele-workers is their own bias. Just the other day I had a manager say to me, “If I have to be in the office, then they [the employees] should as well.” This negative attitude and doubt, shared by many managers, about the validity of tele-working is not productive. Managers need to shed this attitude and manage with facts. Just because you see an employee in the office today, doesn’t automatically mean that the employee was productive. And just because you don’t see the employee in the office today doesn’t automatically mean the employee was not productive. That same boss who was skeptical about tele-working admitted to me he is personally very productive when he works at home. And he is right: study after study has shown that most worker productivity goes up with tele-working. You can be successful if you get a good tele-work agreement in place, clearly communicate what you expect the employee to accomplish while tele-working, and then take action if or when there is a problem.

What are some the steps federal managers can take to protect themselves against Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints?

The best protection against an EEO complaint is to keep the focus on the job and clearly articulate the mission-related reason for the boss’s actions. In dealing with people, the boss needs to correct the behavior, not judge the person. This simple step will generally protect the agency and the manager against EEO complaints. The manager should also recognize that EEO complaints have a valid role in our system and that the manager cannot prevent someone from choosing to file a complaint. When and if it happens, the boss needs to let go of understandable frustration and anger, learn to take the complaint in stride, and explain his or her actions with detailed facts including how the manager’s action furthered the unit’s mission.

Program Benefits:

  • Understanding the legal rights and responsibilities of managers
  • Increased confidence in dealing with EEO complaints, difficult employees, inappropriate conduct, insubordination, or poor performance
  • Better comprehension of disability issues and how to respond to requests for reasonable accommodation


Robin Wink

Robin S. Wink joined Avery, Dooley & Noone in 2006 as Of Counsel after a lengthy career of government service. Ms. Wink focuses her practice in the areas of federal employment law, agency appeals, and discrimination and whistleblower complaints. Ms. Wink’s practice focuses on federal employm...

Managing the Federal Employee: Discipline and Performance Process at Brookings Institution

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Coursalytics is an independent platform to find, compare, and book executive courses. Coursalytics is not endorsed by, sponsored by, or otherwise affiliated with any business school or university.

Full disclaimer.

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