OPM’s Federal Workforce Priorities Report for 2018 identifies employee health as an area it wants agencies to focus on to boost productivity at the organizational level.

However, physical health is just one aspect of the broader concept of wellness that helps drive success for both individuals and their agencies. Equally important is mental exercise. Lifelong learning – career development and engagement, in other words – challenging your brain, is an important part of staying “healthy.”

A 2012 study from Aon Hewitt notes that career opportunities are key to employee engagement. And, with 70% of US workers unengaged, seeing career development as a part of wellness is a must.

How do you know if your brain is challenged? Do you see your work as personally rewarding? Are you satisfied with the work that you do—do you feel like you are making a difference / contribution? If so, great! If not, then perhaps you can start to think about developing your career (and your brain).

There are many ways to develop without formal training or coursework, such as cross-training or “shadowing” with a co-worker to learn a new procedure, process, or system; coaching or mentoring; and self-analysis of values and interests so that when a learning opportunity presents itself, you’ll know if it’s something you want to pursue. Additionally, if your work doesn’t provide the volume of learning experiences you crave, consider volunteer work as a great way to learn, network, and keep yourself challenged.

You may also want to talk to your supervisor about creating an Individual Development Plan (IDP). Just doing something can help you start to feel better and more engaged. There are no regulatory requirements mandating employees complete IDPs within the Federal Government, although many employee and leadership development programs require IDPs. Completing IDPs is considered good management practice, and many agencies have developed their own IDP planning process and forms.

While there is no one “correct” form for recording your development plan, an effective plan should include, at minimum, the following key elements:

  • Profile – name, position title, office, grade/pay band
  • Career goals – short-term and long-term goals with estimated and actual completion dates
  • Development objectives – linked to work unit mission/goals/objectives and your development needs and objectives
  • Training and development opportunities – activities you will pursue with estimated and actual completion dates. These activities may include formal classroom training, web-based training, rotational assignments, shadowing assignments, on-the-job training, self-study programs, and professional conferences/seminars
  • Signatures – both you and your supervisor should sign and date
  • A way to track your progress. Its not enough to just have a piece of paper (or electronic form). You should track your progress on meeting your goals.

While not a panacea for all ills, knowing where you are going and how you can get there will go a long way to meeting your personal wellness goals.

Nancy Segal is a federal human resources training and job search expert. Following her own 30-year federal HR career (much of it at the senior level), she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC in 2003 to provide an HR management perspective to both federal managers and astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy has unmatched federal career management insight, high standards, and respect for people’s time, and her clients use this to their advantage.