Magazine article Policy & Practice

Local Executive Team on Workforce Issues and Service Delivery

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Local Executive Team on Workforce Issues and Service Delivery

Article excerpt

The current economic climate has affected everyone, not just those who receive human services, but those who provide those services. We asked the members of APHSA's National Council of Local Human Service Administrators (Locals) Executive Team to provide some insight on how the economy is affecting the human service workforce, and their suggestions for human service administrators during these difficult times.

Q: What impact have you seen on the human service workforce as a result of these difficult economic times?

Dennis: In Dakota County, Minn., public assistance program households have far more than doubled in the last 10 years. Although staff has been added, and new efficiency-related technologies have been implemented, the bottom line remains the same: the workforce seems often stretched to its limits. Stress levels are high for many. Now more than ever, efforts to retain staff and maintain a positive work climate are critically important.

Elliott: Even as the economy begins to show signs of recovery, the needs of our communities' most vulnerable residents are still overwhelming. Unemployment is still rampant and new applications for assistance are still coming in at record levels. Every month a new batch of families exhaust unemployment benefits with no job prospects on the horizon.

Through this recession and workload crisis, eligibility workers at the front line of service delivery have reacted with pride at being part of the basic safety net needed by so many; but at the same time the strain of overtime, and the inability to effectively meet all regulatory commitments has created new levels of painful frustration. Too often the stress of a doubling workload manifests itself in increased workplace injuries and stress. It has also resulted in new pressures in labor management committees and at the bargaining table.

Uma: Due to the weak economy, turnover in the human service workforce has slowed. This creates some degree of stability. However, retirements have increased. Most governments have offered retirement incentives to reduce the future burden of a workforce whose salary is typically above midpoint. In my county alone, a third of my workforce could retire within the next five years. This creates tremendous urgency for succession planning within our human services. It is also an opportunity for trying innovative approaches, including automation as a solution for reduced workforce and a more computer and technology-savvy staffing complement. On the other hand, caseloads have grown--the food stamp caseload has grown by 107 percent over the past three years and TANF by 64 percent--all at a time when there are hiring freezes and restrictions on overtime. In addition, there are furloughs and possible increases in employee contributions, reductions in force and an increased focus on accountability that are all increasing and sometimes create unfavorable pressures on the workforce. Morale is weak and the responsibility for line supervisors and management to support the workforce in creative ways is more critical than ever.

O: What strategies have you used or seen used to try and keep the human service workforce strong and motivated?

Dennis: Numerous strategies have been implemented to provide staff recognition, useful and continuous communications, and an organizational culture that recognizes the value all staff add to service provision and successful agency operations. A number of these strategies unfold through various agency committees, plus both informal and formal feedback and recognition. For agency management, it is important to demonstrate an understanding of and genuinely listen to those who voice workload concerns. The challenges have become more noticeable since the onset of the most current recession and slow economic recovery.

Elliott: At the same time we continuously search for new efficiencies. Web-based benefit applications, document imaging, interactive voice response and service center approaches to case management are all tools to ease the strain. …

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