Morale and Productivity : LUSENET : Court Ops Exchange : One Thread

What programs has your court implemented to increase morale with employees who have achieved the maximum pay and/or position? What were the successes and pitfalls? How did you measure the success of these programs?

-- Colleen Willison (, September 28, 1999


I wanted to balance Susan's comment with a note of caution, based on stories from courts that I collected during the FJC's Rewards and Incentives program, conducted by audioconference a couple of years ago.

Larger courts found that some positions (for example automation) had more of a chance to provide service to a broad range of court staff, and thus were more likely to secure votes or nominations. People could understand the awards, but felt some frustration: that is, they doubted that in their work as a deputy clerk or a supervisor or team leader, they would ever be recognized by the full court staff.

One way to work around that might be to have ad hoc committees from year to year that undertake initiatives. As long as anyone can head the committee, anyone in your court would have the opportunity to put in extra work that benefits the whole organization. And a deputy clerk, as well as a member of management, might be seen as contributing beyond the call of duty.

Several courts reported that the reward and recognition process, especially when it involved cash, led to feelings of jealousy. In our own experience at the Federal Judicial Center, I can report that when we gave out monetary awards, few people congratulated those who received the awards, and if one person was made happy, that left many more people who felt confused or even resentful of the selection. (I know of several cases where the recipient said they wished they hadn't gotten the award after seeing people's reactions.)

There is a particular problem with money awards, as opposed to, say, people giving each other certificates of appreciation. Putting a dollar amount to work has the risk of trivializing someone's effort. First, any sum, after taxes, does not go as far as one might wish these days. Second, most people who do work beyond the call of duty do it because they really want to make a contribution, and "paying" them for their contribution may feel like it cheapens their contribution. The best arguments I've seen against using money are by Alfie Kohn. His book "Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes," makes an articulate, research-backed statement that using a "carrot" approach does some of the same dangers that we hate in military-style management.

I cannot quote numbers, but I recall a colleague in the AO saying that most of the courts that initially adopted cash-based rewards programs eventually abandoned them. Now some of that may be because judges determined that the business model of promoting initiative was not appropriate in the judiciary, but again, I think it's worth thinking this through carefully before proceeding. I suspect that a lot of planning went into Susan's program and others before they were launched, and I would encourage courts considering this approach to involve a cross-section of staff, including "nay-sayers" as well as "early adopters," in a planning committee to consider how to best build a formal

-- Michael Berney (, October 03, 1999.

Something that we have done in the district court CDIL is to form committees made up of employees from each of our four divisional offices. Some of those committees are Quality Assurance, Performance Review, Work Improvement, Civil/Criminal Procedures, etc. Every non-management employee in the district is on a committee. Each committee has a Deputy-In-Charge as a contact person for questions but the Deputy-In-Charge does not attend all meetings. The committees meet monthly or quarterly as needed, writes minutes of meetings, and submits ideas or recommendations to management. Our Civil/Criminal committee has written a civil procedures manual (which is updated and changed constantly) and are now in the process of writing a criminal manual. The committees have made the employees feel that their opinions and knowledge of clerk's office operations are appreciated and that they are a part of the entire team. It has also helped us with uniformity in the divisional offices.

-- Pam Robinson (, September 28, 1999.

We have also formed "cross-divisional" committees to work on such areas as training, performance evaluation, attorney support staff education, offsite program and planning. We also implemented a tuition reimbursement program. Unfortunately, in today's budget climate, things like tuition reimbursement and annual offsites may take a hit, and my concern is that this will send morale back down. Nontheless, we have found that just having staff from both offices working together has made us feel much more like one court.

-- Celia Strickler (, September 28, 1999.

About five years ago, we implemented an Employee Awards and Recognition Program which rewards employees in various performance categories and also for Special Services, Resources, Back-ups, Sustained Superior Performance, to name a few. This is an excellent opportunity to recognize and reward staff for involvment in special office projects, work on committees and performance as resource people. Some of these rewards are for cash and some for gifts. We also take the entire office out to lunch to conduct the program and close the office for two hours to do so. The staff absolutely love the program and themselves nominate persons for the awards. We measure its success by the enthusiastic response and high morale we notice as well as we do a post-program survey each year to get people's input on how it went and ways to improve it next year. We are also evolving the program and everyone always says each year is better than the last!

-- Susan Thurston (, October 01, 1999.

Unfortunately, working for the Federal Judiciary most of our employees are at a disadvantage for promotional opportunities within the same court unit. Most of our employees (Case Managers) are at their Target Grade and with an average tenure of 10 years, they have minimal opportunity to move into different positions due to the lack of turn over. Understanding this, we have made it clear that those employees wishing to grow professionally within the Judiciary must be prepared to relocate or to develop themselves in other areas so that they can qualify for other positions.

In order to help morale and increase their opportunity for professional growth, we offer programs like a Tuition Reimbursement Program and opportunities to work with several management staff as Subject Matter Experts. Case Managers are also members of various Court Teams such as the Peer Evaluation Team, The Web Team, Quality Assurance Teams, etc.

We also offer variable work schedules like Flex Time and Compressed Time. All job vacancies that are received are posted on the Personnel Bulletin board on cc:mail and on the HR Web Page so employees know what is available for them. Employees that are working towards qualifying for other jobs either within our District or elsewhere are supported and not discouraged.

With regard to the additional compensation issues, it is true that bonuses can cause attitude problems. We experienced this with the introduction of our yearly Clerks Club Award which is awarded once per year. This program was introduced about 5 years ago and awards exceptional employees with a monetary bonus, a plaque and an administrative day off. When first introduced, awards went to individuals and the new program did cause a stir and some sorts of jealousy. As we have matured in Team Based Management, so have employee attitudes. Now nominations for the prestigious Clerks Club award are submitted for individuals AND teams. Our case managers seem to look forward to this every year and seem genuinely happy when the recipients are announced. We have learned to support each other and to acknowledge the hard work of others.

-- Peggy Craig (, October 08, 1999.

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