I recently had the privilege of taking part in Governing’s Crisis Management Summit, Washington DC and Summit on Financial Leadership, New York City.  In both situations I was given the opportunity to speak about the role the workforce plays in every aspect of the topics covered. I see how easy it is to overlook this, but day-to-day operations, no matter how small, impact the larger picture.

Workforce management is such a broad term and used frequently for a lot of different purposes.  When we think about workforce management and specifically, when we think about it in state and local government, it has a much deeper meaning.  Anyone who works for or in government understands that working in government means that you are working for a different purpose. The government workforce is responsible for delivering services to the taxpayers and the dollars used to pay for that workforce comes from taxpayer’s dollars. One would assume that it is very important to track the time, activity, efficiency and effectiveness of that workforce and yet it is often overlooked.  The reasons they are not are many and can come at a great expense to the state, city or county.

Over the many years that I have worked in the public sector it surprises me how an expense that can be as high as 60 – 80% of any organizations greatest expense is not tracked. There is a belief by many that tracking your time and activity somehow diminishes your role as a professional or implies a lack of trust. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Tracking your time and activity emphasizes your role as a professional and enforces a culture of trust and accountability for both employees and employers.

When faced with a financial crisis we often look to the workforce to find ways to reduce our expenses; something that provides a quick fix. But what happens when we have already reduced the workforce and any further reductions will result in an inability to deliver important services? Or what if you haven’t tracked your workforce effectively so you can’t make informed decisions? These are the reasons that tracking your workforce is so important. For example, knowing what your overtime expenses are and understanding why you have them could be important during an economic downturn.  But more importantly, knowing them before an economic downturn is much more valuable as it helps you to plan.  Understand the patterns that create overtime. Why are my employees taking so much leave or maybe not enough leave?

During the Great Recession, government had to reduce headcount significantly and we all know that they will never get that full headcount back. With that being said, governments must find a way to truly do more with less. How can you effectively do more with less if you didn’t know what your employees were doing in the first place? It seems that the only time we want this information is after it is too late. 

Proper management of your workforce can help you prepare before a financial crisis and perhaps help you to weather the storm a little better.

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