COMMENTARY: A pat on the back

by Jun 3, 2021OPINIONS



One Feather Editor


It is productive and right to give pats on the back to those who we think have done us a good deed. By all means, community members and workers who contribute to the betterment of our community deserve a note of thanks.

There have been several public accolades over the past several months. For example, we are about to receive the per capita distribution from the portion of casino profits. Around this time, at every per cap distribution, folks, especially officials, start giving accolades to the employees of the casino(s) for their work toward getting that money “that we tribal members don’t have to do anything for” (a quote from a tribal council representative).

But, while it is fitting to give credit where credit is due, it not a great practice to give general praise to one group within an organization or community and not another. In a world where everything is twisted into class-isms, the COVID has produced even more divides and silos. Essential versus non-essential, pro-mask and anti-mask, pro-science and anti-science, and vaccinated versus unvaccinated. And as learned and savvy as we are to the process of demonizing, as a whole, it looks like we have been easily suckered into hating each other over these different COVID opinions.

With our tribal government, we do not have a formal recognition system for outstanding workers. Over the years, there have been attempts at it by different programs within the organization, but nothing of substance for the overall organization. The Tribe does offer a merit pay incentive program, but that is a sporadic system that is implemented and frozen depending on whether the government determines it has enough money to pay for it. In other words, merit pay is a non-essential item. When cost containment is necessary, one of the first line items to go is merit pay; that along with the employee relations line item, which is another reward program for employees that is intended to build morale and increase productivity.

The example of freezing or eliminating merit pay might be a symptom of a more important and threatening mentality. The presumption that all workers simply work to get a paycheck; that people work as a necessity and not out of dedication to the work and community they serve. And the Catch-22 of it all is that freezing employee incentives actually procreates the mentality of indifference among the employee community. If an employee feels like their contributions are not of value, then that employee will be less inclined to make the extra effort to make more of an impact for the community.

The workgroups with the tribal government are typically siloed in nature and have been for many years. Cross-operational workgroups are supported and promoted by some managers, but it is overlooked or assumed at some levels of leadership. Add to the mix that we now have classed our employee population in essential and non-essential categories, and morale and productivity get another bite taken out of them.

Comments made by leaders are not helpful to the cause of unity, community, and productivity in the workplace. Making public statements like “while many of us got to sit at home, these workers ensured that essential services continued” highlight the class-ism we have drifted into. This type of speech serves to further separate and silo programs and individuals. Other comments like “those who were sent home were taken care of” implies that even though those employees did nothing to contribute, they were compensated. The statement carries a undertone of resentment for those unable to work due to the COVID-19 mandates.

I have utmost respect for civil servants who chose professions like policing, emergency services, etc. And we could not have asked for better leadership through the pandemic than that we received from our tribal government and health services. I know several municipalities would have liked to have had some of our talent in this regard. Those people and the services they provided are what they are trained for and what they expect in their day-to-day. The pandemic took it to a higher level, but our fire, EMS, police, health workers, deal with pandemic in miniature throughout their careers. As one of the leaders in the medical community touted, “it wasn’t their first rodeo”.

The pandemic was a unique challenge for all of us. It is appropriate to celebrate the workers who lead the charge to recovery from the pandemic (and are still doing so). But all of us, each of us, played a unique roll in the recovery of our community from the pandemic (and are continuing to do so). So, when leadership is doling out pats on the back, there should be enough to go around for all.