After reading a recent article from Government Executive, This May Be the Worst Abuse of Federal Telework Ever, I started reflecting on who is at fault when government agencies waste your tax dollars. The article talked about how several employees at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) were spending their telework days doing personal chores and not working. According to the article, the employees expressed that they did not have work to do, but nothing was done to increase their workloads. The situation was made worse because the agency had a backlog of work. Additionally, the underutilized employees received annual bonuses up to $3,500.
Who is to Blame?
The troubling part of the article was the fact that the employees may possibly be fired as a result of mismanagement. I am not sure how employees can get blamed for their supervisors not assigning them work which obviously needs to be done. What are employees supposed to do when their supervisors do not assign them work?
By no means am I advocating employees getting paid for not working. I am looking at the cause of the situation and not the symptoms. What procedures are in place for employees to report that they do not have work to do besides tell their supervisors?
Telework is Not to Blame
Will telework suffer a bad reputation because these employees happen to have been at home doing personal things as opposed to in the office doing personal things? Some of the same things happen at home also happen in the office. This appears to be a management problem not an employee problem.
Emphasis was really placed on telework abuse based on the article’s title. Was telework really the problem or was it a management problem? The benefits of telework far outweigh the problems with it when it is managed effectively.
Keep the Focus on Effective Management
When employees are given meaningful work and then held accountable for their performance, it shouldn’t matter where they work. Most managers do not watch what employees do every minute of the day in the office, so why is it necessary for there to be special restrictions or procedures for checking on employees who telework? Supervisors should know if employees are working based on the results that they are able to achieve.
I really cannot understand how these same employees, who were not working, were given bonuses, according to the article. This just seems to really be an example of poor management. How do employees who are working less than 10 hours per week get rewarded with bonuses?
Opportunity to Improve
The reality is that the situation at the USPTO is not unique. I am sure that this situation goes on more that we care to admit. I think instead of assigning blame, we need to look at this situation as an opportunity to do better. How can we provide more resources for management to better work with unions (the reason stated in the article for why “managers felt constrained”)? How do we do a better job with assigning work and managing employee performance, so that it doesn’t matter if employees are in the office or at home. How can we inform employees of ways that they can address underutilization?
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