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October 31, 2016

Improving Workforce Management: The Case of the Regional Municipality of Niagara

Tech-savvy millennials are entering the workforce, and this new group of workers is seeking to take advantage of technology to work remotely. With more organizations embracing a work from anytime, anywhere and on any device environment, it’s important for managers to have accurate insight into staffing levels and where skills gaps may exist so they can fill them.

The Conference Board of Canada recently published a report titled Leveraging Today’s Technology: Connecting Operations to Corporate Workforce planning in the Public Sector. The report found that one of the biggest challenges facing many of today’s public sector organizations is that they are utilizing out-of-date decision-making processes and technologies. It is a combination that creates gaps and minimizes the overall visibility into an organization’s workforce.

The report, which includes research from different business units in federal departments and municipalities across the country, found that public sector organizations are at varying stages of upgrading their aging technology infrastructures. Some are still using 20-year-old systems, while others are beginning to transition to newer systems as part of a technology refresh in order to create better efficiencies.

The introduction and adoption of new technologies in the workforce have drastically changed the way we work. Employees are more mobile than ever before and are no longer confined to work within the four walls of an organization. This, combined with a desire to maintain a healthy work-life balance has also introduced new challenges for managers and HR to effectively manage and have visibility and intelligence into their workforce.

In the public sector, for example, workforce management is vitally important in critical areas where employees work on shifts and where certain levels of staffing are necessary in order to meet service and legislative requirements. Not having proper around-the-clock shift coverage could ultimately influence a life or death situation.

Technology plays an important role when it comes to workforce management, which can be defined as the integration of business and HR data and processes that allows organizations to make the best use of their employees on an individual, departmental and entity-wide level. By providing leaders with information and analytics related to an organization’s workforce, decision-makers can more easily make faster and tactical business decisions.

How the Regional Municipality of Niagara Upgraded

The Regional Municipality of Niagara, which comprises twelve municipalities across Southern Ontario (and which provides services that range from garbage and recycling to public health and safety, transit, long-term care, water, and everything in between) realized a technology update was needed in order to gain better visibility and management of its workforce. Workforce coverage and attendance are of the utmost importance.

Like other governments, the Region is accountable on how it spends its budget and time to deliver these services. The citizenry also expects these services to be functional and available when required. For the Region, this means having appropriate levels of staffing and knowing when employees who are dispersed across a vast geography are present or absent.

In order to ensure visibility, management was forced to rely on reports and information that were prepared manually. Managers also did not have access to in-depth employee data and analytics, making daily and long-term decision-making difficult. Additionally, preparing reports and gathering information were also subject to human error and often came from different sources, making decision-making slower still.

The Region’s leadership and HR teams recognized that they needed to change how they managed workforce-related procedures, and eventually turned to a workforce management solution to help them improve efficiencies.

For example, the Region was affected in 2011 by a number of unexplained employee absences. These absences usually lasted more than five consecutive business days without any sort of medical documentation or knowledge. Scheduling and forecasting were difficult from a planning perspective since leaders lacked insight into the current state of their workforce and difficulty determining whether they were under or overstaffed.

Since adopting a workforce management solution, managers have acquired visibility into their employees and process assets as they have access to real-time and automated data, analytics and forecasting. They no longer have to guess the correct number of employees that are required to cover any given shift. They are also able to see information about their workforce organization-wide and can make decisions as the needs of the business and its employees change. With this new level of workforce insight, public sector leaders were more empowered than ever when it came to managing staff, trend analysis and scheduling. In areas such as long-term care for instance, when staff are required during peak times in the summer and around the holidays, being able to plan based on historical patterns is an advantage. The process of making forecasts and changing schedules takes less time and is now more accurate.

In 2013, the number of unexplained employee absences decreased by 92 per cent compared to what it was in 2011. With a consolidated view of work volume, patterns and workforce analysis, managers are now able to see where there might be gaps so they can effectively schedule employees to work. This creates better workplace efficiencies and allows the Region to be more flexible and agile in how it utilizes its resources. Especially in emergency service and long-term care service areas, being able to see trends has made a significant difference and improvement into how the Region manages its workforce.

Establishing Accountability and Obtaining Buy-in

Transitioning to a workforce management solution and adopting a mindset where accountability and workplace attendance mattered were not easy steps for the Region.

According to a recent study we conducted at Kronos, 57 percent of Canadian organizations said workforce management responsibility was shared between two or more groups. That was the case for the Region where buy-in was required from the executive and operational levels. The Region knew that in order to be successful with its workforce management solution it needed involvement and understanding from employees at every level of the organization.

One of the challenges with having several groups responsible for workforce management is that it can be difficult to manage from a governance point of view. Questions such as who-is-in-charge-of-what and where-does-the-accountability-ultimately-reside rise to the surface. Realizing the importance of staff awareness, the Region held several focus groups to introduce a culture shift that would address workforce accountability, attendance, and address directly the issue of which groups would be responsible for what. Focus groups for its employees also encouraged acceptance of the new workforce management tools.

Like many organizations, the Region employs a number of baby boomer-aged staff. As these individuals are nearing retirement and as more tech-savvy millennials are entering the workforce, this new group of workers is seeking to take advantage of technology to work remotely. With more organizations embracing a work at anytime, from anywhere and on an endless variety of devices, it’s important for managers to have accurate insight into staffing levels and where skills gaps may exist so they can fill them. The Region uses workforce management and analytics capabilities for its salaried, hourly, casual, temporary and part-time staff to ensure it maintains a cohesive view of its workforce at all times and in a consolidated manner. Workforce management technology allows managers to reduce the amount of administration time that might have been spent poring through manual spreadsheets in the past.

While it has already seen the benefits of using a workforce management solution in its organization, the Region knows it must look ahead. In addition to encouraging its culture shift in the workplace so employees realize the importance of attendance awareness and increased accountability, the Region must also sustain and improve how it manages scheduling in the future.

Through the integration of workforce data into other business systems, management is able to proactively deal with situations such as excessive overtime and absence issues before they become a reality. By having accurate data, analytics and forecasting capabilities in place, public sector leaders can more efficiently and effectively fulfill staffing requirements, workflow and overall workforce management. The role of technology and workforce management software has never been more important as more organizations are using this data to improve decision-making and optimize the workforce.

Spiros Paleologos is the Canadian vice president and general manager for Kronos (www.kronos.ca)

For Further Reading:
Jackson, Shannon. Leveraging Today’s Technology: Connecting Operations to Corporate Workforce Planning in the Public Sector. Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2016

HR Horizons and Kronos, Canadian Trends in Workforce Management: Harness the Potential. 2016

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