May 27 2021

NASCIO Midyear 2021: State Agencies Must Address Workplace Culture Challenges

Maine CIO Fred Brittain warned of the high potential for staff burnout based on findings of a recent survey.

State CIOs must carefully consider changes in their workplace culture as IT agencies move out of the pandemic conditions that forced many employees to telework, said Maine CIO Fred Brittain during the midyear conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers on Thursday.

“We may be a technology agency, but we are powered by humans,” Brittain said, citing a quote from a recent NASCIO survey report, “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: A Resilient and Adaptable State IT Workforce.” Brittain focused his remarks on the NASCIO survey, which was released in March.

States were expecting to make significant staffing cuts last year due to pandemic-driven budget shortfalls, but most state CIOs told NASCIO they anticipate their workforces to remain the same or even grow slightly, according to the survey. And many of those employees will continue to work remotely some days for the foreseeable future.

“Back in 2020, only three CIOs flagged remote workforce as a priority for them,” Brittain said. “In the 2021 survey responses, CIOs’ responses were generally based on the assumption that remote work will be around permanently or at least for a while.” 

Brittain also emphasized the need for empathy for employee health and work-life balance. Employees are working more than ever, and they don't have the natural break in the day or the opportunity to reset afforded by a commute.

Microsoft Research Statistics Indicate Staff Exhaustion

James Collins, general manager at Microsoft Consulting Services and former Delaware CIO, addressed workforce issues with Brittain during the NASCIO Midyear panel.

Citing research from Microsoft WorkLab, Collins highlighted workplace statistics and how things have changed since the beginning of the pandemic.

  • Weekly meeting times have increased 148 percent.
  • An average meeting is 10 minutes longer.
  • Team chats are up by 45 percent.
  • Per person, chats after hours have increased by 42 percent.
  • 54 percent of workers feel overworked.
  • 39 percent of workers feel “exhausted.”
  • 1 in 5 workers say their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance.
  • 41 percent of employees are considering leaving their jobs this year.
  • 46 percent of employees would like to move for remote work possibilities. 

Although collaboration has increased, it occurs in closed silos, Collins said.

“My experience is that, when a meeting goes longer, you are late for another meeting. And sometimes you are in multiple meetings,” Collins said.

He added, “We need to change our mindsets on workplace culture and management to mitigate the negative and leverage the opportunities.”

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