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How to Overcome Workday Burnout

In today’s world, there are many reasons to be an overwhelmed employee. Budget and staffing shortfalls move projects to your desk because no one else is around to do them. Great ideas have endpoints, but no discernible ways to get there. 

And a vast array of technology — emails, instant messages, virtual meetings, collaborative tools and so much else — can seem more noisy and burdensome than productive.

Still, there are ways to help employees avoid burnout and make the best with what they have. 

In his “How to Empower Your Team to Do More With Less” keynote remarks at GovLoop’s recent “Overworked? There Could Be an App for That” briefing center, Chezian Sivagnanam, the Chief Architect & Technology Innovation Lead at the National Science Foundation (NSF), talked about the NSF’s journey from using limited and centralized IT to providing innovative, empowering tools for agency employees.

The NSF has 2,500 staff plus contractors, Sivagnanam said, and has made do with a relatively flat budget for the past five years. The number of its full-time employees has changed little since at least 2012 — so additional staff isn’t coming to the rescue of existing workers. And like many agencies, the NSF hunts around for extra resources.

But while the agency’s technology used to focus on basic operations and management, the NSF since 2006 has implemented updates and reforms that relieve employee stress and streamline how they work. It’s a lot to be proud of, including:

  • New and evolving IT investments
  • A democratized governance process that make reforms more effective
  • Artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain experiments
  • New approaches to using data
  • Virtualized and streamlined help desk processes
  • Creation of various communities of practice 
  • A willingness to think outside the box

Based on the NSF’s experience, Sivagnanam believes there are several ways that technology can unburden a stressed-out office. 

Empower digitally

Use robotic process automation (RPA) to carry out much of the routine, mundane work that employees normally handle — like sending form emails to customers and constituents — so that staff has time for more interesting, rewarding work.

Take advantage of low-code and no-code technologies that let staff work easily and directly on agency applications. Increase the self-service tools available to employees, make agency data more accessible to them and upskill staff in areas such as data analytics.

Create communities

It can be lonely sitting at your desk, swamped with work. That’s why Sivagnanam highlighted NSF’s five communities of practice (COPs), which draw people together to share insights regarding RPA, low-code technology, AI, innovation management, and enterprise data governance and education.

What he called the NSF’s “innovation ecosystem” — a.k.a., its community innovation portal — allows staff to publish their blogs and post updates on their innovation endeavors. It’s a way to share ideas, build relationships and get yourself noticed, in a good way.

Be untraditional

The truth is, Sivagnanam acknowledged, “There are some challenges you’re still not able to solve by yourself.” That’s when it’s time to think outside the box.

The NSF, for instance, is using crowdsourcing to gather information on distributed ledger technology, which would allow the agency to securely use and maintain a decentralized digital database by using cryptography.

The NSF also has issued open challenges to its staff — encouraging them to think of new ideas — and is exploring public-private partnerships or, as Sivagnanam called them, “networks of networks.”     

“This is beyond the traditional way of doing things when you run short of resources,” he said.

And when workdays never seem to end and deadlines never seem to vanish, going beyond “traditional” solutions is awfully appealing.

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