A new world of work for government

By John Asquith

June 11, 2019

Picture: Getty Images

Government is changing, everywhere, in every department and in just about every city on the planet.

Citizens expect, and most government departments want to provide, a better service.

But the established way of doing things, based on the inefficient paper-based systems of the past, laden with bureaucratic red tape, is a big ship to turn around.

There are solutions. But if we want to improve the way we do things in government, we need to understand what the issues are with the way work is done today.

To achieve this aim, ServiceNow conducted an Australian study to examine the nature of work across the public and private sectors, and what Australians are willing to do for meaningful work.

READ MORE: Australia can’t afford ‘tech passivity’ in parliament any longer

From the menial to the meaningful

We set out to look at the difference between the meaningful versus menial aspects of work that do on a day-to-day basis.

While we may have once accepted that you can’t have one without the other, this assumption is being challenged and the importance of doing more meaningful work, that is, work with a purpose and an outcome, is now fundamental to the millennial generation.

It’s also increasingly compelling to the working population at all ages.

As they now enter the workforce en masse, as many as 67% of millennials say that they are prepared to sacrifice some of the more material elements of work (in some cases — salary) if they are able to engage in more meaningful work roles.

Further findings in this study pointed to the fact that some 71% of workers state that they wish their employers had solutions in place to support processes that get menial tasks done more effectively.

To understand how people really feel, we asked them to compare their life at work with situations at home. For example, we found that 45% of Australian workers would rather clean a bathroom than spend time figuring out their HR benefits.

A further 30% would rather take a call from a telemarketer than set up a new computer, while 37% would rather be stuck in peak hour traffic than troubleshoot a broken printer themselves.

The message is abundantly clear; there is a new generation of workers who really care about how work is carried out.

A passionate public sector craves meaningful work

Roughly a quarter of respondents came from government, and it appears that people in the public sector are even more focused on engaging in meaningful work tasks than their peers in the private sector.

Looking at the change in workplace attitudes more directly, we see that people now want to be part of a culture that instils a sense of empathy and belonging for everyone.

And they want a good environment to work in.

When it comes to the public sector, that’s even more challenging than it sounds.

It’s worth remembering that not every place of work in government will be an office.

It might be a classroom, a hospital ward or perhaps even the inside of a police vehicle.

The Baby Boom boom-effect

Let’s consider another very important factor having a significant impact on the global workplace barometer.

There’s evidence to suggest that people are now retiring later in life; probably because people are living longer and finding that they need to work longer in order to be able to afford the lifestyle that they want to maintain.

This has resulted in fewer vacancies for millennials.

But as this period of adjustment ends and a new equilibrium begins with the rate of retirements increasing again, vacancies will increase and competition for talent will rise.

Organisations that can offer meaningful work will be the winners.

An additional side effect is a ‘sonic boom’ of knowledge loss.

We now have a collective responsibility to ensure we capture the knowledge held by those leaving the organisation and design workflows that make it readily accessible to those that need it, when they need it.

A machine-augmented workforce

To take a local example, Canterbury District Health Board in New Zealand has worked hard to identify those elements of the organisation’s processes that are menial, in order to give their staff back more time for work that is meaningful.

Chief People Officer (CPO) Michael Frampton used Human Centric Design to change the way people worked in order to enjoy better experiences, unlock productivity, and improve decision-making by replacing menial tasks with digital workflows.

The organisation has also embraced the idea of a workforce augmented by machines, where humans and machines can work together to deliver results that are better than those that either of them could have achieved on their own.

In the world of healthcare this is hugely important; combining machine intelligence with human judgement has allowed the organisation to create better and more effective treatments for its patients.

The team in New Zealand called their new workflow system Max and even went to the trouble of defining it as a verb in its own right.

To staff at CDHB, to ‘Maxify’ is the action of “working with teams to understand how they work, or want to work, and (re)designing the workflows and enabling technology that makes work, work better for people”.

Frampton himself has explained that technology is a key enabler to help support people whose mission is supplying patient care. People are drawn to health because they want to be able to help others, so eradicating any tasks which take that away from people is a real gift to them.

Now is the time to pivot to digital

Government is clearly at a critical inflexion point in terms of the way it now embraces, implements and deploys technology to create better experiences for people.

Using digital workflows to replace menial tasks provides a solution that can be implemented now.

It is not always going to be straightforward, but it is a societal responsibility if we are all going to be able to live better lives.

Digital democracy isn’t that different from the non-digital kind; it’s still of the people, by the people, for the people.

Let’s vote for that.

John Asquith is the head of innovation at ServiceNow ANZ.


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