In a recent survey of our city and county government clients, a full 70% cited staffing issues as the number one challenge currently facing their organization. It’s not just governments, of course, because everyone is having their share of personnel problems as a result of the “Great Resignation”. But in the case of government agencies, especially in more rural areas, the challenge of staffing can be even tougher.
More work with fewer people results in higher stress levels for really everyone at the organization. But in addition, the residents in these areas could receive less timely services and become increasingly concerned about the way their tax dollars are being managed. If audit reports are in arrears due to short staffing, the agencies are at risk of grants not being approved or funded, projects getting stalled, and communities being underserved. Pressure mounts even more. It’s a complex cycle to break through, and most importantly…
It’s hard to attract new hires to this work environment.
What are the answers?
- Less Work
- More People
- Better Pay/Benefits
- More Satisfying Work
- Automating Workflows
Tackling the Answers
If we take each point above, we can see that some of the solutions are, in fact, part of the problem. The first three, Less Work, More People, and Better Pay/Benefits, are often not within the control of the county and city management teams or can be incredibly difficult to modify in a short period of time. The last four items can be addressed one at a time, or sometimes in combination, where one solution feeds into another.
More satisfying work
According to a July 12, 2022, Forbes Magazine article, “Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report for 2022 stated, “60% of people are emotionally detached at work, and 19% are miserable.” That is to say, if a desk job in a government agency in California isn’t glamorous and turnover is high, it’s not a one-off. The problem is ubiquitous. That doesn’t mean it’s excusable. The Forbes article goes on to say that part of the reason for this unhappiness is a lack of focus on the workers as people even though they are “getting things done” and “checking boxes.” To address the high turnover statistics worldwide, the article’s author Shane Green suggests that every manager and leader revisit how to make their employees feel more valued. Managers should provide staff with work that gives them autonomy and responsibility and matches their workstyle and strengths to the work required. Part of this is done by changing how the work is done through restructuring.
For any agency, restructuring means department managers reorganize the priorities and roles people play to increase productivity or improve communication. It may also entail moving employees to different teams or locations. While restructuring can have its own set of challenges or obstacles, it can be worth exploring. With the thoughtful, purposeful restructuring of workflows, the agency can find new life, which can help morale and reduce turnover if done properly. Moving a manager from one department to another or having fewer managers may better use people’s skillsets and increase job satisfaction. Another way to address employee retention and job satisfaction is by automating workflows.
Automating workflows means that repetitive work or rule-based work can be computerized. While I don’t necessarily believe robots will replace us all, they certainly can help us, so why not take advantage? Really any repetitive process in finance can utilize some level of automation, saving an incredible amount time to free up employees to work on higher level tasks and review.
Daily tasks and even management functions can be outsourced. If you are experiencing disappointing or even failed recruitments, this may be the time to consider a different approach and accepting the fact that “the way things used to be” are not coming back. Many agencies choose to outsource or hire temporary staffing as a short-term solution to help get the work done on time while still recruiting for open positions. However, it is worth it to consider outsourcing some responsibilities as a broader or longer-term strategy, as it can allow you to prioritize your internal resources and capabilities and address the gaps. The strategy can also help reduce overall costs, considering rising salaries and benefits. Part of the cost consideration should also involve the stress factor as a result of late reports, mistakes, and unfulfilled services to residents.
Governments are part of the fabric that keeps our communities working well, but in this current environment, with staffing challenges on the rise, it is becoming more difficult for governments than ever before. The current workforce is evaluating what they want, how they want to work and how much they want to work. With fewer staff members, keeping up with the workload means reports are delayed, stress is increased, and the worst happens: more people leave! Turning the tide through a combination of outsourcing, automating workflows, and restructuring can lead to more satisfying work. If doing the same thing you’ve been doing has not yielded a different outcome, i.e., a better response to “help wanted” ads, it might be time to try something new. And while it’s hard to think about attacking the staffing situation when everyone is already too busy, it might be time to consider a combination of old and new strategies and tactics.
LSL CPAs has experience in this area and can answer your questions. Let us know how we can help – contact us today!