It’s an issue that’s prevalent across most government agencies. The workload continues to increase as the federal workforce continues to shrink. Many agencies are having difficulty backfilling positions due to hiring freezes or budget reductions. Some are having challenges attracting qualified people. Others are struggling to retain staff who may feel overburdened and demotivated or may not have the necessary skills to be productive.
A workforce/workload imbalance can pull you and your team downward and create a lot of problems, including:
- The inability to get work done to meet deadlines, requirements, and mission goals.
- Low morale because people feel overwhelmed with too much work or feel the load isn’t fairly distributed.
- An ever-worsening situation because the people you do have get frustrated and leave, creating more work for those who remain and who may not have the time or training to jump in on additional tasks.
We’re not going to say there’s one simple solution because the workload challenge is a complex issue. But here are seven key ways that can help you and your team get back on solid ground:
- Federal Workforce Planning
A smart first step is to identify the gap between demand — the amount and type of work that needs to be done and supply — the type and number of staff you have to do it. If you don’t have enough staff members with the right skills to do the required work, you can do targeted hiring and/or reskilling and training to develop the talent needed. At the same time, you should examine your retention practices to ensure that you’re able to keep your existing staff to avoid creating additional workload issues.
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
— John C. Maxwell
- Workload Analysis
With a workforce analysis, staff members identify where they spend their time relative to the work they do, defining what percent of time is spent on each task. The workload analysis can help determine where staff members are spending too much or too little time and why. The reasons may include things like not knowing exactly how to do the work, not having the right tools, or having ineffective systems for getting the job done in a timely manner. The analysis also can identify where tasks can be shifted from one individual to another to balance the workload, where training may be needed to increase proficiency, and where tools and resources may be needed to do the work more effectively.
- Process Analysis
Some workload challenges can be caused by inefficient or outdated processes. Process analysis can help uncover where processes are not optimized to gain efficiencies and increase productivity. It also can help identify where roles and responsibilities may not be clearly defined, which can result in duplicative processes and wasted labor or processes that are not being completed as they should because of the lack of clarity and understanding.
If you were ever asked to do something you didn’t know how to do or do correctly, you know what the outcome can be. Many times, workload challenges are the result of the employee not having the right skills to get the work done effectively or efficiently. You may have staff members who are spinning their wheels trying to do the job without full understanding or knowledge of how to do it—and a little training may go a long way in helping them and you get things done.
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
— Peter Drucker
- Workload Planning and Visibility
Sometimes employees may be challenged because their priorities aren’t made clear, so they focus on less essential tasks instead of accomplishing the most pressing or important work. Also, if managers don’t have the right tools to distribute and assign work effectively, some staff members may be overburdened while others may be under-utilized. Or, if there is a poor performer and others have to compensate by doing more than their fair share, it will breed resentment and create morale issues with the high performers. Having the right tools to balance workloads and improve performance is essential for managers.
- Adoption Management
If employees rely on an IT system to get work done but are not able to use the system effectively, that can cause big workload challenges. It’s possible that the system as designed should work just fine, but the employees have not received the proper training to use it correctly. It’s also possible that the employees may be resisting using the system for any number of reasons. Maybe they like the old system better, they perceive the new system as being more difficult, or they may be concerned the new system will change their jobs or responsibilities. Whatever the reason, it can lead to loss of productivity, so properly managing the adoption process is critical to having employees adapt and succeed
- Recognition and Retention
Lastly, simply thanking your staff for the good job they are doing can improve morale and engagement. Recognizing employees’ efforts makes them feel appreciated and increases dedication. Informal stay interviews (short discussions to learn what keeps people on the job) can help you determine the types of recognition employees value. You can then develop a strategy for staff retention. For example, some people prefer an email from senior leadership recognizing their contributions, some prefer to be recognized by their peers, while others prefer to be recognized one-on-one by a direct supervisor. Knowing exactly what your employees need to feel appreciated can bolster their commitment to you and their jobs.
“You manage things; you lead people.”
— Rear Admiral Grace Hopper
At Suntiva, we take a systems approach to the work we do. We know that workload challenges may be caused by many different things, and our team members are trained to identify the root causes. Only when you identify the root cause can you address the problem in a sustainable way. As Human Capital experts who are adept at the nuts and bolts of federal workforce planning, we can provide support to leaders and managers, along with the tools, training, and coaching necessary to rise to the workforce/workload challenges and not only engage employees but also successfully sustain change.