Let’s face it, the work culture has evolved and technology is the responsible party. Older generations could have never imagined we would be so accessible to so many people after the work day is through. Even if you were “on-call” it was still only one person who could get in touch with you. So, what makes us compelled to respond to calls or emails during our personal time. Is it pressure? Or is it a great benefit?
I started my career at a telecommunications company. It was before smartphones, but not before laptops and cell phones. Suffice to say, I was in an environment that was conducive to bringing work home with you. I saw this as a benefit. It provided some flexibility to my work/life balance. But there is another side to always being connected.
Employers are beginning to look at the effects of after hour work. Flexibility is a benefit, but to what extent. Balance will play a crucial role in how we look at this in the future. France has gone as far as implementing a “right to disconnect” law all in an effort to reduce stress caused by staying connected. There may not be one right (or wrong) solution to this problem.
The same scenario plays out every week. Employees do their job and employers pay them for that job. Sounds simple, right? Well, sometimes processes break-down and that paycheck is impacted. Have you ever had a paycheck that was inaccurate, late, or worse didn’t come at all? Suddenly, the employee and employer have an issue at hand that has more than just monetary implications.
According to a new survey from The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated an estimated 82 million1 Americans – more than half of the U.S. workforce – have experienced a problem with their paycheck during their career. The results of the survey go on to say that more than a quarter (26 percent) of hourly workers have been paid too little, while 15 percent say they’ve been paid late. For the salaried worker, 15 percent say they’ve been shortchanged in their check and 16 percent report being paid late.
On the flip side of things, there’s also the issue of paying employees too much. Calculations errors aren’t uncommon when time & attendance is tracked on paper. The survey found, on average, American workers say they must likely be overpaid a staggering $463 before alerting their employer to the mistake.
Public sector employers have an additional risk to adverse side effects from an incorrect paycheck. Regardless of underpayment or overpayment, the threat of the media putting a spotlight on perceived wasteful spending is real. It signifies a weakness that the organization isn’t in complete control over their payroll processes.
The truth is, Payroll employees are often over-burdened by illegible hand-writing, late or incomplete time sheets, and the sheer volume of paper that comes in. With this environment comes the potential for errors. Looking for areas of efficiency can lead to better accuracy and even cost savings.
Footnote 1: Calculation based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report from January 2017 that estimates there are 152.08 million employed people in the U.S.: 152.08M x 54% = 82.12 million.
I recently attended Governing’s Outlook in the States & Localities Conference in D.C. to continue my own education on the public workforce and how it’s impacted by current events. I would equate the abundance of info to watching the news of the past year in fast-forward. It is quite overwhelming. But every year I come back to this event because its where you’ll find the best info.
I was disheartened, but not shocked, to hear 2016 will even further stretch resources including the work done by our public servants as in years past. As the topic of labor was danced around, but not quite addressed, the mere mention of rising costs of healthcare (2016 HHS spend in state & local government to increase 5-6%) and pensions (currently a $1T shortfall in state & local government) will no doubt keep hiring at low levels. And by low levels, they mean from as far back as 2009. According to Governing, local governments have fared the worst with this steady decline in employment.
A shortage of employees at any organization hurts. Yet in government it has an added sting, because the people who really suffer are those who need it most. As long as programs can’t be run due to a lack of resources, and there are citizens who rely on these services, it will continue to create a negative effect on society. Scrutiny around operational inefficiencies within government will continue to grow and could even cause some distrust.
Let’s make 2016 the year we take a deeper look at costs, including labor, and find ways to bring some of our programs back.
Last year we had 45 ‘Major Disaster Declarations’ in the U.S. according to FEMA. Sure the number fluctuates each year, but the reality is you can’t predict when or where an emergency is going to hit a community. And it doesn’t matter which part of the country you live in. Maybe you don’t live in a region where you’ll ever experience a hurricane or a tornado, but flooding is the #1 natural disaster in the U.S and all 50 states have experienced floods or flash floods according to Floodsmart.gov.
With this information alone, it makes sense for states, cities, and counties to have a plan should a disaster strike, right? Many government organizations do have a plan that includes addressing the safety of the public and responding to the immediate need. All things that are extremely important when confronted with an emergency. But what about the after-math? What about the months or years of recovering and rebuilding? Or the resources and manpower to make all this happen? And the budget; how do you allocate funds to cover costs? Being prepared isn’t just about the initial response to an emergency, but should include what it takes to track the recovery efforts and maximize reimbursements from funding agencies.
Labor costs are a large operational expense for any government budget, but throw in an emergency and now these costs grow exponentially. Once an emergency moves to a FEMA declared disaster, now the pressure is on to track every penny of what is spent on clean-up and recovery efforts. FEMA has some pretty strict requirements for labor costs associated with emergency work under Recover Policy 9525.7. What if government agencies accounted for this level of tracking ahead of a disaster by identifying efficient labor tracking methods in their emergency preparedness documents?
Take what the City of Houston did for example. The city put together a Finance Disaster Recover Manual back in 2013. So when the floods hit Houston back in May and Harris County was FEMA approved for Federal Disaster relief funding, you can bet they pulled up their recovery manual and began tracking according to their pre-laid plans. All duties associated with recovery will be coded and tracked to get as much funding from various agencies as possible.
Although a municipality may never recoup all money spent, there is no excuse for leaving money “on the table”. Tracking with paper or spreadsheets leaves governments open to a loss of funds due to inadequate tracking, miscalculations, and delays in report gathering. Prepare your organization to not only recover safely through an emergency, but also financially.
To me, the term “Smart City” always felt like a fictitious phrase made up by someone in marketing. I’m probably more cynical than most since I come from the marketing world, but I wondered how you could debate a city was smart or not. And does that mean the other cities are dumb? No, of course not, but as I’ve researched this topic I have noticed that some cities do exemplify the definition of Smart Cities. Yes, there is a Wikipedia page devoted to this. In short, the term refers to the creation of knowledge infrastructure through technology and data.
Last month I attended the Smart Cities & Counties Summit put on by the Public Technology Institute (PTI). They put on a great conference and gathered some outstanding cities and counties to come together for best practice sharing. At that point, I got to really understand why the term “smart” was used. Topics included 311, GIS, fiber optic broadband, transportation, etc… But from the topics were overlying themes of efficiency, collaboration, and an overall goal of wanting to build a better community. So for a city to be “smart” it doesn’t just adopt new technology and say “we are cutting edge”, it uses technology alongside people to look for ways to grow. Here are just a few of the cities that presented on their initiatives at the summit:
- City of Minneapolis is using analytics and data to make better decisions across departments and better coordination of city operations.
- City of Charlotte is building solutions to connect the city and it’s citizens with sites like Open Charlotte and the Code for Charlotte Brigade complete with it’s own hack-a-thon.
- City of Columbus is working with academia and businesses to conduct research on sustainability and economic development.
Workforce development was another element of Smart Cities that found its way into the conversations. After all, what is a city without its employees delivering services and its citizens being part of a workforce to stimulate the economy? Smart cities (or any city for that matter) are seeing a new generation come in with different skill sets while an older generation makes plans for retirement. Workforce development plans proactively look for ways to bridge this gap and transfer knowledge to move forward with succession efforts. Technology can play a role in this by way of educational/training tools, workforce management solutions, and talent acquisition.
So, this brings us back to question, ‘Is having a smart city important?’. Some will argue that it is subjective so therefore the title is up for grabs for any city who deems themselves worthy. I say, the smart city title is important, but only if the ultimate goal is bringing government and it’s citizens together. So far, I like what I see.
Who knew government finance could be so cool? After attending the GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) Annual Conference this week, I have to say I saw some pretty innovative best practices from a variety of cities and counties. Like the Town of Cary, NC and it’s advanced meter reading, or the City & County of Denver creating efficiencies with Lean principles, and the City of Minneapolis making better decisions with predictive analytics. But there was one initiative that really had that “wow” factor. It was the Montgomery County, MD’s Open Data project. This new site, called dataMontgomery, gives citizens and employees alike visibility into budgets that puts transparency at a whole new level.
dataMontgomery is a tool that makes reading financial data fun and interesting. How can that be you ask? Well, for one, it’s visually appealing. You can choose to look at the data in different views (charts, graphs, etc…). And coming soon, you’ll be able to drill down into each department’s costs, even down to project level spending. Another thing is, its user friendly. The data can be exported or used right on the site. They also have reports already created and ready to be viewed in multiple formats. Public requests for data – no problem!
Meaningful data is unfortunately a rarity in more than just government, but around the world. We keep hearing the term “big data”, but all that data is useless without a tool or resource to help you understand it. An open data tool, such as dataMontgomery, can benefit not just the external customers (citizens, media, etc…), but also internal customers (employees). Think of the knowledge gained by making data-driven decisions. Time, money, and resources that can be reallocated to more fulfilling initiatives. And the satisfaction that they (employees) are serving the community in a purposeful way. What a wonderful world that would be.