Jeff Beckham, interim Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management. Credit: Hugh McQuaid photo

When the state of Connecticut wrote its policy on teleworking state employees, it included a provision for establishing performance measures to evaluate remote workers. After all, if supervisors don’t share a physical location with staff, how will they know if their staff is working efficiently?

Private industry has a clear answer. For decades, corporate America has employed specific and detailed measures of performance to both motivate and evaluate workers. For example, many companies would use sales targets or quotas to determine a sales person’s effectiveness.

Now academic experts, policy research organizations, and even federal agencies are calling on governments to use them to promote accountability and transparency as well as to build public confidence that government teleworking works.

Labor’s Political Clout

So what happened in Connecticut despite this drastic change in how government operates? Very little, as state officials say state government will evaluate teleworking employees the same way it always has – despite the fact that now about 13,000 employees are teleworking, many four days a week or more – as a result of an arbitrator’s ruling in 2021. Despite this historic change, the established record of private industry using performance measures, and the call from political and management experts, the state is embracing the status quo.

The administration of Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat who won a second term last year, proposed a more limited form of teleworking, but the arbitrator ruled in favor of the state’s labor unions. As a result, state employees have a right to appeal to arbitration if the state requires them to report to an office more than one day a week. In State Fiscal Year 2022, more than 90% of the telework applications were approved by state managers without modification, according to data from the Department of Administrative Services (DAS).

Republicans are using the opportunity to argue that the Lamont administration isn’t pressing for performance measurements because of the political power exercised by state employee unions.

“Democrats are too cozy with labor unions,” said Republican Party State Chairman Benjamin Proto. “If we are going to work from home, what are the performance measures to ensure that the work is being done?”

House Republican Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said, “If we are not assessing whether services are being effectively delivered, it’s not good.”

Relying on the lack of a scandal as evidence that teleworking is working doesn’t prove anything, Candelora said.

“It’s all anecdotal,” he said, adding, “We operate in these jobs as part of the public trust. Are we still fulfilling our obligations as public employees? We can’t answer that without data measuring performance. I don’t think there is much oversight. Period. And now we have made telework permanent without evaluating if it is working or not.”

Asked to respond to the claim that the unions’ political clout makes the administration reluctant to press for performance measures, a spokesperson for the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) said the state will rely on current methods for evaluating employees and that “if employees do not perform to an acceptable standard of work, they may be subject to remedial actions, including but not limited to the modification or revocation of telework privileges.”

In an interview, OPM Secretary Jeffrey R. Beckham stressed that the teleworking policy was thrust upon the state by the arbitration ruling and that the state needed to conduct itself in a collaborative fashion with “our partners” in the state employee unions. He suggested that performance measures might need to be negotiated.

“We have an arbitration ruling we have to live with,” Beckham said. “Telework is new, but what didn’t change is how we evaluate personnel. Standards we’ve always used are still in place … and managers have the same responsibility they had before. If we have to do something new, we’ll have to have a conversation at the bargaining table.”

Performance Measures Promote Accountability 

Experts in organizational management argue that performance measurement should be used in government.

The University of San Francisco Online School of Public Management writes, “Performance measurement helps managers recognize those who are succeeding and those who are floundering . . . Performance measurement also helps with accountability ensuring that work crews are performing as expected and taxpayer’s money is spent responsibly.”

The Urban Institute, a policy research institute, writes, “Performance measurement is a tool to help government agencies and nonprofits know whether their programs and services are leading to desired results. … Although performance measurement and performance management are hardly new to public and nonprofit sectors, they are used more today than ever because demands for greater accountability and growing expectations that organizations need to do more with less.”

Even the federal government is advocating their use specifically where government employees work remotely. The federal Office of Personnel Management, in an article entitled “Managing Teleworkers Requires Topnotch Performance Management Skills,” wrote, “poor performance management can lead to poor work results in any setting, but especially in a teleworking environment.” The federal agency recommends that government managers should develop performance measures related to “quantity, quality, timeliness and cost effectiveness.” 

So the reasons the state wrote the policy to include the authority to develop performance measures are clear.

The Status Quo 

Asked why the performance measures were specifically included in the policy but not implemented, officials repeated only that evaluations would continue as the process existed before teleworking.

They cited the complexity of establishing goals for so many different job roles.

“There are no uniform, statewide standards for productivity and performance because of the wide range of agencies, job responsibilities, and job classifications across all of state government,” said the OPM spokesperson.

The state coalition representing state employee unions – known as SEBAC – said that the state has measures that “continue to show a productive state workforce dedicated to serving the needs of Connecticut.” When asked to identify or produce the measures however, SEBAC said the data was from the state. However the administration spokespersons from OPM and DAS said they were unfamiliar with any such aggregate data.

Travis Woodward, president of CSEA SEIU Local 2001 and a supervising engineer at the Department of Transportation, said teleworking “continues to prove [to be] a powerful recruitment and retention tool, helping us to keep the knowledgeable workers we need while enticing new workers to join state service.”

Sacred Heart Professor Gary Rose, an expert on Connecticut politics who has authored several books, said those who want to maintain the new telework structure would be smart to embrace performance measurements.

“Every job should have some measure of performance,” he said. “It would diminish criticism if you have outcome measures. There are perceptions of state employees as bureaucrats who are impossible to fire. If they (employee unions) can say they have measurable outcomes, they can mute the criticism – even if people fall below the standard.”

Gary Kleeblatt lives in Wethersfield and teaches public speaking at Manchester Community College.

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