Workforce management: A key challenge in corrections

Our most important, and most expensive, asset is our people


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In these difficult economic times, managers are forced to find ways to not only save money but also to better manage current resources. Sweeping layoffs, budget reductions and unprecedented economic challenges are driving private and public corrections to find ways to both contain and reduce costs while operating a safe facility.

Technology can assist in many areas of corrections — cell phone detection, incident pin mapping, biometric readers to ensure staff rounds are being met and radio frequency identification technology to track inmate movements to name a few.

However, historically corrections has been slow to adapt to innovative technology — and employee workforce management is no exception.

Our most important, and most expensive, asset is our people. We take great effort to make sure staff are happy at work, and have the opportunity to advance their careers and feel appreciated on the job. Employee engagement is important to achieving and maintaining a positive work environment.

For most organizations, labor represents the most significant, but yet controllable, expense. There is great opportunity to reduce some of these costs by focusing on workforce management.

A recent survey conducted by CorrectionsOne.com revealed how many correctional facilities are still using traditional methods when it comes to workforce management.

•          66 percent of respondents say their agency uses paper or Excel to schedule corrections officers to work

•          72 percent of respondents say their agency supervisors use paper and the phone to call officers during an emergency recall situation

•          50 percent of respondents say their agency is keeping track of which employees are on premises using multiple, manual processes

Such methods can create issues for organizations such as poor staffing and schedule planning, inability to find and contact staff quickly as well as inadequate staff tracking, which can impact personnel safety.

The survey also confirmed that most respondents feel that loss of positions due to budget cuts is causing the agency overtime, with 78 percent of those surveyed saying their agency does not maintain adequate coverage for posts or critical positions and that under and over staffing as well as unaccountability are critical challenges in our field.

Since overtime is often related to position cuts and ensuring post coverage, respondents also offered observations regarding overtime allocation.

For instance:  

•           43 percent of respondents cite overtime allocation as sometimes fair and equitable

•           12 percent cite that it is seldom fair and equitable

•           17 percent say that it is never fair and equitable

So, essentially, more than 70 percent of the respondents feel overtime allocation has some room for improvement at their facility.

Further, if an agency has no clocking system in place, it is not known who is arriving and leaving and at what time. This old fashioned "honor" system can create unnecessary overtime.

As you know, when an officer is late, that post is covered with overtime until the officer is relieved. Electronic systems not only allow for a more accurate accounting of time, but also hold employees accountable to their work hours.

Similarly, if an agency is using paper to staff posts, problems may arise. There are numerous posts which are critical to run the facility safely. These posts are filled first, followed by the non-critical posts.

Traditionally, this task has been tracked on paper but now there is technology available to provide a more accurate picture of daily staffing, resources, and vacant posts, quicker for supervisors. This saves time, money and possibly lives.

Safety aspect
Accurate methods to manage staff are also vital in reducing payroll errors, missed punches, unscheduled absences and “buddy punching. It is estimated, for instance, that payroll errors can cost up to 25 percent of an agency’s budget. There's a safety aspect, too: one mistake in a paper tracking method of who is on the compound during an emergency can be costly.

From a management standpoint, I know that we burn a lot of time tracking down employees to complete time sheets or correct missed punches. Time is wasted covering unscheduled time off, tardiness and absenteeism.

Time "mismanagement" problems not only go straight to the bottom line — fewer services and greater costs — but can also cause compliance issues. No public entity, business or corporation can survive this equation for long.

The sad reality is that if you have no reliable method to accurately track, schedule and manage your workforce, you lack the insight into where large areas of your labor costs are going and operational information for effective use of staff. 

However, today there are numerous technological advances that enhance the profession, allow us to do our jobs more effectively and preserve valuable resources. 

Technology is advancing 
The younger generations of employees are more comfortable with technology and welcome  electronic time management and scheduling systems. They thrive on technology because they grew up in an era where technology advanced at rapid rates. In addition, this generation are not only receptive to new technology concepts but expect it. 

Imagine if staff could request time off, submit a schedule change request or send notifications to a supervisor via a smartphone, the Web, or on a tablet. Other professions in healthcare physicians and the hospitality industry have embraced this technology and our industry should as well.

They know that technology is key in saving time and money while keeping operations running smoothly. My daughter is a server at a local restaurant. She can request her shifts or trade shifts with another employee through the use of mobile technology.

As we give more attention to labor and time management by using the latest technological tools to help us track, schedule and account for human resources, cost savings will be realized. Along with increasing the bottom line, staff will feel more valued and morale will naturally increase.

There will always be challenges in management, but technology can really help us do our jobs more effectively and efficiently as we continue to navigate through 2013 and beyond. 

Sources:

"Scheduling Solution Provides Streamlined, Secure Schedules". (2013) Corrections forum  January/February Issue, pgs. 14-15.

Bulman, P. (2010). Using Technology to Make Prisons and Jails Safer". National Institute of Justice Journal, Issue 262, pg 38-41.

"Department of Labor Launches Controversial App to Track Hours Worked". (May 13, 2011) Published by Jackson Lewis. www.jacksonlewis.com

Georgia Institute of Technology web site: http://www.gatech.edu information retrieved 2/12/13.

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