Are You Making Your Employees Unproductive?
How much time do you spend in an unproductive manner? If you’ve never measured how much, it’s hard to make an effective case that you’re overworked or understaffed.
Lots has been written about unproductive employees and how to motivate them, but the issue I’m focusing on here isn’t unmotivated employees—it’s the unproductive ways employees are expected to (or choose to) spend their time.
For example, it could be time you spend:
- Doing work you wouldn’t have to do if others (such as customers, vendors, or the other group) did the work they were supposed to do
- Duplicating work another department (even your own) has already done, which you weren’t aware of
- Preparing reports no one reads
- Supporting trivial needs while ignoring high payoff
- Solving the same problem repeatedly instead of figuring out how to eliminate it
- Wasting time on trivial administrative tasks
- Doing work—including worthwhile work—in an inefficient, laborious manner due to lack of the proper tools or facilities
- Interruptions and more interruptions
- Putting out fires, managing crises, refereeing disputes, responding to email, attending unnecessary meetings, supporting (or hiding from) the squeaky wheel, waiting on hold, and redoing work you didn’t have time to do right but now have to spend time doing over
An unproductive effort could be one or more of these, or any of several other possibilities. However you define it, it could be worthwhile to track the time you, your team, or your department spends on these unproductive efforts over a month.
When you’ve tallied the total, you can translate it into salary dollars. For simplicity, use an average salary number so as to avoid making the calculation itself an unproductive task. Unproductive time that adds up to thousands of dollars over the course of a year suggests a serious problem in your policies, practices, or the cooperation you’re getting (or not getting) from others.
This isn’t to say you must be productive every minute of the day. That’s unrealistic in the best of cases, but beyond that, more evidence is being found for the importance of taking breaks and spending time deliberately not working. The key is to be sure that the time you do spend working is time you’re working productively.
Measuring time spent unproductively is a good first step in determining where the problem lies. But it’s more than just a good first step; it’s a necessary step if you need management support to make changes. If your management favors solid numbers over mushy maybes, these measurements will enable you to make a credible, persuasive case.