Millennials: Government Must Make Work Meaningful Again

With 67 percent of millennials wishing for more meaningful work, government agencies must reduce menial tasks and implement digital workflows to “give people more time to do the job they applied to do,” explained John Asquith, Innovation Lead for Government at ServiceNow, during their Knowledge 2019 conference on May 7.

Complicating the situation in government, the Center for State & Local Government Excellence sees fewer state employees postponing their retirement, and more accelerating, leaving vacancies that may have a big impact on government services, as well as IT operations and security.

These vacancies could lead to a shortage of skills and manpower that a pay raise isn’t guaranteed to fix. According to a ServiceNow survey, people are looking for more meaning in their days that are typically filled with hours of menial tasks that inhibit productivity. On average, workers say at least 40 percent of their day is spent on menial tasks.

“People are looking for work that has clear outcomes and a purpose,” noted Asquith. “And there are many benefits to providing more meaningful work for people, [including] higher levels of engagement and retention, and a more positive culture.”

Asquith says that according to the U.S. research, 45 percent of employees would rather clean their bathroom than figure out HR benefits. More than a third would rather be stuck in peak rush hour traffic than trouble shoot a broken printer. These stats point to significant room for improvement in employee experience.

Government is no exception. The survey shows that government employees value meaningful work even more than employees in other industries – and fewer than half, 45 percent, say their organization actively tries to reduce menial tasks. If the public sector hopes to recruit and retain millennials, this must change.

“Government has some work to do in terms of making work, work better for people,” Asquith says. “I think the key question is what can you do. It is really important because we want to reduce the level of menial tasks in an organization to give people more time to do the job they were hired to do …and the job that will enable them to deliver better service and create better outcomes for their community.”

Asquith emphasizes, “It starts with getting the culture right. One that is inherently human-centric.”

He explains teams need tools and technologies to make their work better, and to free up time to focus on meaningful work. In state and local governments, this issue not only affects employees, but also the citizens they serve.

There are many opportunities to streamline and implement more efficient workflows – employee on-and-off boarding, fulfilling citizen information requests, etc. The goal is to create a more productive and secure environment – whether the employee works in a traditional office, from a remote location, in a classroom, or in a service vehicle. The good news? Some state and local agencies have already successfully automated workflows, increased productivity, and delivered more positive citizen and employee experiences.

Tom Yeatts, Chief Strategist for State & Local Government and Education at ServiceNow, witnessed the impact of automating routine, repetitive tasks first-hand as former Deputy CIO for Howard County, Md.

When Yeatts started, numerous Howard County departments relied on inefficient manual process –including human resources (onboarding, time sheet approvals) and procurement.

“Government onboarding was not a great experience,” Yeatts shared. “The services I needed on day one were not available on day one.” As a manager, Yeatts had trouble approving timesheets with little information. And, the county’s procurement process was particularly challenging, involving manual processes, forms, and approvals across multiple stakeholder groups — finance, vendors, secondary approvers, legal, and finally, the county executive.

Using a ServiceNow base platform, the County was able to build a workflow that runs across all the departments. Yeatts explained, “we implemented a digital workflow to take the complicated procurement process that took four to six weeks and cut it down to a single afternoon. On top of that, all managers knew where we were in the process.” By reducing time spent on routine, transactional activities, Yeatts and team gave employees more time to focus on the work that truly makes a difference.

Chris Dilley, Chief Architect for State & Local Government and Higher Education at ServiceNow and a former state enterprise architect, noted that the state has worked with ServiceNow to automate employee on-and off-boarding (processes that also involve many different departments). The new digital workflow eases administrative burdens on the HR team, allowing them to focus on meaningful work, and giving new and departing employee a better experience.

Dilley likewise pointed to an example where a state hires approximately 600 temporary workers for seasonal services like snow plowing. They automated the entire process. These workers must be onboarded and are given assets including GPS, and various equipment. The automated workflow eliminated security gaps (for example ensuring building access was revoked was an employee left, and allowed the department to hold workers at all levels accountable.) “The state knew where all those assets were and where to recover [those assets] from,” said Dilley.

In another example, a state’s Human Services department faced challenges scheduling citizen appointments with case workers, accomplished via email and phone calls. These direct methods sometimes left case workers going back and forth for weeks, Dilley explained. By working with ServiceNow to digitize the workflow, the state is giving citizens the ability to schedule appointments directly with their case workers. Citizens can see available times and schedule, letting case workers stay focused on helping their clients. “It is giving the case workers time back to do that meaningful work,” said Dilley.

In all of these examples, automating workflow not only improved employee experiences, it also improved the way the states interacted with citizens.

Dilley highlights the need for knowledge management as long-time employees retire. “Everyone is now aware baby boomers are retiring in droves…that’s a lot of knowledge walking out the door,” said Dilley. “This platform and the act of going through that business analysis process, gathering tasks and putting them in a system of record, is so critical right now, because you never know when [a key person] will leave.”

To narrow down areas where an organization can drive automation, Dilley recommends starting with requests handled through email. “What things are you getting in your inbox? Are they valuable and meaningful?” If not, Dilley noted, look for opportunities to approach differently and enable more self-service. The bottom line, Asquith said, is understanding the way we work and where the issues are.

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