Saturday, November 18, 2006

You've Got Mail: What's Wrong With Government Policies

Sheila Chunis works for Connecticut as a state Social Services employee. She also has a son who serves in Afghanistan with the Connecticut Army National Guard. In typical bureaucratic fashion, the behavior of employees and state computers has spawned a series of rules about what state employees can and can't do on those state computers. A rule enacted last May, according to the Journal Inquirer, specified what employees could do with email:
Not only did it prohibit state workers from using their state e-mail address for personal use while on company time, it also prohibited accessing private e-mail accounts on the Internet.

State workers were allowed, however, to read e-mails from their children's teachers or exchange e-mail messages with co-workers to plan social events, such as a baby shower or retirement party. (source: Journal Inquirer)

This rule followed a scandal involving Veterans Affairs employees. It's reasonable to expect that government employees not misuse state resources. Focusing, however, on the minutia of what emails that they can and can't read and send is simply ridiculous. The policy exists simply because computer use is easier to track. And tracking computer use as a measure of productivity is the wrong thing to focus on. Fortunately, Governor Rell stepped in and clarified the policy to a degree:
On Thursday afternoon Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced that the e-mail policy for state employees would change to allow them to send and receive messages from their workstation to deployed relatives in the military ... "Separation due to military service is difficult on everyone, and we want to do all we can to support our troops and their families," Rell said in making the announcement. "This change will allow those who are bravely serving overseas to stay in touch with their loved ones."

Under the policy change, employees can now read and send e-mails to immediate family members serving overseas during their lunch periods and other breaks after first notifying supervisors. (source: Journal Inquirer)
This change does not go far enough. In an age when multi-tasking dominates the information technology productivity gains, it's time that bureaucrats stop looking for ways to treat their employees like lab rats, and focus on the performance of the job and service to the public. It is counter-intuitive for government officials to bemoan the state of the social networks that bind communities and then create an employment environment that seeks to cut off interaction between families.

The Journal Inquirer, You've got mail - and it's OK: Rell changes policy so state employees can send e-mail to deployed relatives in military, by Kym Soper 11/17/06

19 comments:

Fuzzy Turtle said...

this is rells SECOND try at addressing the issue. I have a feeling all the press made her come out and change the 'party line'!

I've never worked at a company that limited email like this. They block porn sites, gambling, attachments.. but not something like this.

"Chunis sought help from Rell. Before Thursday's announcement about the policy change, the governor's office worked it out so that if Chunis got an e-mail at work, she could forward it to the state armory in Hartford and drive the few miles there during her lunch hour to read it. But Chunis said her workload made it difficult for her to find enough time to make the trip." (source : Danbury Snooze Times, Nov 17)

bluecoat said...

Rell tells DEP to get U.S. gear to local fire units but only after the CT Post ran a story about a week or so ago showing that CT was losing out - and that the biggest source of surplus equipment for the region actually cam out of Groton. Gotta problem? Put it in the newspaper and Jodi will find a solution - maybe even more than once until everyone os PLEASED. There's an editorial in tomorrow;s CT Section on NYT about CT being behind the times with juvenile justice - we'll see what happens now won't we?

Anonymous said...

I read this story and scratched my head in wonder. A private business that was managed so poorly that they would need to impose a rule like this on their employees to make sure they were not wasting company time would soon be out of business.

But this is the great state of Connecticut where waste in government spending is a way of life. So I guess it should come as no surprise that someone in charge would consider this stupid rule as one way to be sure state employees are not further adding to that waste.

Now that we've resolved the question of E-mailing to family members in the service waste, maybe the governor can look into why we need to spend countless hours held up in traffic only to typically find 18 DOT members of a road crew watching 2 people actually work..... Since those doing the watching are not e-mailing from the job site, solving that question may take some real thinking.

Anonymous said...

The 2nd Congressional District is not over yet ladies and gentleman..
AP Wire is reporting Joe Courtney's lead over Rob Simmons now at 83 due to an error over the new voting machines. From the story there was ballots that were not counted in the machine in Montville. If this is just Montville, I think the SOTS should be looking into more towns that used these machines.

This race still lives and plenty of time before SOTS officially certifies Nov. 28th. Check the wire for the story.

I don't know about how anyone else feels but how accurate is all of this when it comes to very close elections?

Anonymous said...

"In an age when multi-tasking dominates the information technology productivity gains"

Not true- It's been proven that multi-tasking *reduces performance*

Don't take my word, just Google.

"it's time that bureaucrats stop looking for ways to treat their employees like lab rats, and focus on the performance of the job and service to the public."

28% of productivity is lost each year due to e-mail, spam, IM's and unrequired phone use.

Personally I think state e-mail should be limited to state business and there should be no outside internet access unless it is required for certain employee jobs.

turfgrrl said...

anonymous 10:13: Sure there are studies that claim multi-taking is bad, but they fly in the face that productivity in the last two decades has increased. The groups that claim productivity loss because of email etc have an agenda to push, often linking back to some product that promises to "increase productivity." The fundamental issue is that people are social, and the workplace should never become an anti-social monitorized environment. Acknowledging that people have lives outside of the workplace is a crucial step.

Anonymous said...

"Sure there are studies that claim multi-taking is bad, but they fly in the face that productivity in the last two decades has increased. "

You are assuming "multi-tasking" is the source of this productivity vs working smarter, more training, incentives, etc.

As a manager who has to deal with people in a hectic *must produce* field I can assure you multi-tasking does not work.

I was at a seminar and was witness to a simple but effective demonstration- 2 people grabbed at random were given a stack of coins, a number of paperclips and one other item to sort out.

One person was instructed to do one thing at a time (sort the coins, make a paperclip chain and sort the other item) the other was instructed to try and do all three at the same time. (multi-task)

The person who did them "one at a time" always won without exception...

There was no product to be "pushed" aside from making people more productive and pointing out mistakes managers made in business. When multi-tasking you waste to much time moving your thought focus from one subject to another which breeds mistakes and is inefficient.

Anonymous said...

"The fundamental issue is that people are social, and the workplace should never become an anti-social monitorized environment."

You are hired to work, be social on your own time not mine.

turfgrrl said...

anonymous 8:10: And yet amazingly people can walk and chew gum, sing in shower, listen to music and write complex software. I suppose the military must be totally on the wrong track by installing heads up displays in their vehicles and air craft, which reminds me that pilot conversations in the cockpit and with ground control must clearly present difficulties for those pilots that can't sort coins and make paper clip chains. Humans multi-task, and always have.

turfgrrl said...

anonymous 8:10 the second: hrrmmm.... yes but then what do you care what your employees do as long as they perform the work? Work output can always be measured, isn't that the more important criteria?

sheshe said...

I am the mom of the soldier. I serve the disabled citizens of the state of CT. I have an excellent performance record. My son is in a war zone. Being told he is safe reduces anxiety and increases production. I am licensed professional counselor and do counseling outside of this job.
Young people are skilled at working and integrating internet and email use. My older two are college grads in professional jobs. The state whines about brain drain but these young people flock to innovative,forward thinking companies that respect their ability to do work and handle their computer use.
A man that did consulting as a sand caster told me of an event with german and american employees. Given the task, the Germans thought it out, the Americans dove into it. Our focus on productivity has gotten in the way of quality under the guise of "multi-tasking"

Anonymous said...

"And yet amazingly people can walk and chew gum, sing in shower, listen to music and write complex software."

I'd point out the first two examples are tasks that require little thought and the last example only one of the tasks requires you to focus (the work being done)

You are not focusing on the music, it is a background activity.

Anonymous said...

"yes but then what do you care what your employees do as long as they perform the work?"

Performing work and performing work well are two different things..

Anonymous said...

" I suppose the military must be totally on the wrong track by installing heads up displays in their vehicles and air craft"

If you gave it any thought you would have the answer- Heads up displays are there to keep the pilots eyes up front rather then wandering around the cockpit trying to refocus on gauges and then back.

Proving what I just pointed out.

Anonymous said...

Another perfect, real world example of multi-tasking that proves it does not work well- Ever watch a driver weaving down the road while on a cell phone?

Anonymous said...

I think multitasking has multipurposes, and people have added in a few personal "to do's" to their multitasking at work. I would have to agree that "multitasking" is a fantasy in terms of actually buckling down to get a particular task accomplished. They should rename it wheel spinning.

But the ability to be mentally away from your desk, for some, is a form of silent rebellion, and a way to console themselves that at least in some small symbolic way, they are effectively saying, "I'm outta here" or "whatever".

For others, it's a way to fit a quart into a pint bottle, since hours in the day don't allow for everything they must do to make ends meet.


We live in a state like most other states, where corporations can fire at will, and where health benefits are on the decrease, people are losing retirement benefits, and the contract between workers and employers is fraying.

To what extent does a certain type of multitasking that includes one's own personal connections and interests represent a symbolic expression of "You can fire at will, but I can walk out the door at will by multitasking, so there."

I have definitely worked places where productivity and people spending more time on cell phones, websites, playing solitaire, have been bona fide issues. In some places, the issue was solved by removing the doors from the executives' offices.

The much harder challenge is to inspire people to engage in their work and give it their all, and to let them know in concrete, meaningful ways that they're appreciated. So-called "discretionary work," the extra hard work people do over and above the call to duty - just because they love their work and their companies and believe in what they're doing -- cannot be legislated.

turfgrrl said...

anonymous 8:48-8:51: Treating employees like people who can make choices about the how they accomplish the work that they are to perform is really what this is about. Either you buy in to the idea that people perform best when solving their own problems, including time management, or you buy in to the idea that people can't be trusted to manage themselves.

Anonymous said...

If select state employees can log on to this blog, it seems reasonable others can do personal business with state IT equipment.

sheshe said...

As a state employee I read blogs at home. But I agree with turfgirl micromanaging employees. New York Magazine this week has an article about Job burnout and Americans have the highest rate in the world because employers do not care. Actually, Anonymous your cynicism is indicative of an unhappy employee. Maybe a little counseling to deal with your anger?