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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Avoiding the Sickening Effects of Stress

It’s well known that stress makes people sick, and extreme trauma makes them even sicker. But a new study suggests that not everyone who endures adversity is doomed to chronic illness. There might be a way to prevent the body from attacking itself in the wake of trauma.

For the study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, a team of researchers examined the effects of resilience—a measurement of grittiness in the face of strife—on the immune systems of former child soldiers in Nepal. From 1996 to 2006, Maoist rebels fought a civil war against Nepal’s monarchy and the government forces that protected it. One of their strategies was recruiting children, first in various “cultural” activities, such as dancing, but eventually in military roles. By the time the war was over, thousands of children had served as soldiers.

The researchers, from Duke University and the University of California, Los Angeles, found these former child soldiers all over Nepal, interviewed them, and tested their blood. Perhaps expectedly, the soldiers were more likely to have PTSD, and consequently, a marker of chronic inflammation called CTRA gene expression. CTRA stands for “conserved transcriptional response to...

Government’s Impending Technology Crisis

The federal government is failing to adequately invest in new information technology, instead spending billions of dollars a year operating and maintaining computer systems that in some cases have components dating back to the days of President John F. Kennedy.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the system used by the Internal Revenue Service to update taxpayer accounts relies on 56-year-old, low-level computer code that is difficult to write and maintain. The Veterans Affairs Department tracks claims for veteran benefits and eligibility using a suite of COBOL mainframe applications that were developed more than five decades ago. And the Pentagon coordinates the operations of our nuclear forces, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, through a 1970s computing system that uses 8-inch floppy disks.

Such legacy systems pose potential security vulnerabilities, place agency capabilities and performance at risk, and are increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain. And because of the increased maintenance expense, there are limited funds left to modernize and innovate.  

Agencies with legacy systems are well aware that they need to come into the 21st century and devote more resources to replacing, not patching what they have. IT professionals in government have been trying to move in this direction, but budgeting...

Study: Fathers Also Want to ‘Have It All'

Have you seen the T-shirt slogan: Dads don’t babysit (it’s called “parenting”)?

This slogan calls out the gendered language we often still use to talk about fathers. Babysitters are temporary caregivers who step in to help out the parents. But the fact is that fathers are spending more time with their children than ever before. In fact, American fathers today spend 65 percent more time with their children during the workday than they did 30 years ago.

According to the 2016 National Study of the Changing Workforce, almost half of fathers in heterosexual relationships say they share caregiving responsibilities equally or take on a greater share of caregiving than their partner.

This week we witnessed the release of the first State of America’s Fathers, a report that draws on numerous social science research studies as well as new analysis of the 2016 National Study of the Changing Workforce.

As a sociologist who studies fatherhood worldwide, I think the most important message of this report is a simple one: Fathers are parents, too.

But dads' desire to “have it all,” as we once talked about in relation to working mothers, means that they are also having difficulties successfully...

Is the Productivity Drive Hurting Employers as Well As Employees?

Productivity is supposedly at the heart of any successful enterprise. We are told that we are in a global race to grab our share of the 21st century marketplace. Countries, nations and even individuals all must constantly enhance their performance if they are going to survive, let alone prosper.

It is not without its cost. Recent research has highlighted potentially negative aspects of this incessant drive for productivity, such as how the use of expanding performance measurements intensifies employee anxiety. Some of us might be painfully aware that rather than empowering workers, it can stoke insecurities leading to problems of burnout and a disengaged workforce.

Given the largely pro-market bent of the last three decades, this is far from surprising. But less considered is the thought that the pursuit of productivity might be taking its toll on employers. Can it threaten their profits and fiscal position by shifting the focus to short-term accounting practices and away from genuine innovation?

So, we must ask, what are the hidden costs of productivity for both employers and employees? And who is this new productivity culture benefiting? Anyone?

Counter-productive measures

It seems that companies everywhere are trying desperately to become more productive. At the...

Reinventing Management, Again

In 1994, Peter Drucker gave a lecture to government employees called “Reinventing Government: The Next Phase.” (The Drucker Lectures, 2010

In it, he commented on the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, earlier known as the National Performance Review and commonly known as NPR. This was a governmentwide management reform initiative spearheaded by Al Gore, which led to the founding of the Federal Communicators Network 20 years ago. (I previously served as Chair of the FCN from 2011-2012.)

Drucker praises NPR’s success, crediting the fact that it was “focused on performance.” However, he shares his concern that an “individual, isolated” change effort is “just good intentions unless it becomes permanent, organized, self-generated habit.”

Ultimately NPR had a significant impact, including $137 billion in savings. But Drucker’s concerns were well-placed, as the work of the NPR influenced future administrations, but was not duplicated by them in the same way.

At its height NPR made a tangible positive difference in the way government functioned, not only because it was an interagency entity but also because it was well-funded and well-staffed, with 250 federal employees paid by their home agencies all working together. 

Warned Drucker:

“We need ‘reinventing government.’ If we do...

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