Inspired employees could pay off

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Bethany WelchAngela DiNiscoGov. David Paterson wants state government to do more with less.

The rumblings started as early as March when the annual budget was completed. Then, last week, Budget Director Laura Anglin asked agencies to prioritize programs and match them to agency purpose, and allocate staffing accordingly. Presumably, this information will be used by the Budget Division to prepare for the Legislature’s mid-August emergency session.

Paterson’s alarm bell will have a familiar ring in state agencies Not so long ago, then-Budget Director John Cape asked agency heads to provide a one-page list of their top three strategic priorities for the 2005-06 budget. Certainly across-the-board cuts are easier for the Division of the Budget to administer, but taxpayers deserve better. Some state functions are more important than others and the cutbacks should reflect conscious priorities. Some cutbacks save more money than others. As an example, when state expenditures are partially funded by the federal government, cutting state staff can actually cost money if federal reimbursement is affected.

To do more with less, Paterson has to cut the state payroll. Government is a service business—most of the cost is in people. A smaller staff is the “less” part of the cliché. If he is going to achieve the “more” part, state employees who remain will need to become more productive.

Effective managers know that cutting staff can savage morale among the survivors, actually reducing overall productivity—resulting in doing even less with less. To avoid this outcome, managers need to actively engage employees in the mission of their agency. Employee engagement isn’t the same as employee satisfaction. An engaged employee is not merely content, but actively seeks out innovation and cost-saving measures, and truly wants the organization to meet its goals. According to some reports, an engaged employee can be as much as 30 percent more productive than the non-engaged employee who is simply “going through the motions.”

Managers hold the key to improving performance. That’s because the strongest driver of employee engagement is the relationship with one’s supervisor. Having a strong rapport with a manager who communicates effectively, provides feedback on personal performance, and matches skills to tasks builds an employee’s trust and heightens job engagement.

Employees want recognition and appreciation for good work and innovation. Using clear, reliable standards to measure performance assures employees that productivity and effectiveness will be rewarded.

Employees want to use their talents and grow through increased responsibility. This is especially true for the younger generation of employees entering the work force.

Offering opportunities for employees to build skills, take on new projects, or advance in the organization encourages motivation and commitment.

Due to the limitations imposed by the state’s Civil Service system, union contracts and the lack of monetary incentives, increasing employee engagement in public sector agencies is challenging.

When the dust clears from the current round of budget cutting, the Paterson administration and the Legislature should work together to reform the Civil Service system and empower agency heads to better engage their employees.

These principles certainly apply to public employment. “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government,’ published in 2007, is a study of engagement levels of 221,000 federal workers done in collaboration with the Partnership for Public Service and American University. The report measured factors that drive public sector employees to give their best, and ranked the highest performing agencies. It also suggested a relationship between engagement and productivity, and between accountability and performance.

When a weakened economy forces job and program cuts on the state, what it will really take for the governor and the Legislature to do more with less is to emphasize work force engagement.

November 12—Save the Date! CGR to host a forum on improving government effectiveness through employee engagement.

Angelia DiNisco Senior Research Associate &
Bethany Welch
Senior Research Associate

Published in the Albany (NY) Times Union August 05, 2008