The Case for an Employment Diet

America is fat. It’s dreadful. Body fat is one thing – and we have plenty of it around here. But the excess and waste that drips from so much of what we touch in any given day is even more dreadful. And no where is this more apparent than the workplace.

We use too much paper. We keep our lights on long after they should go dark. But this is not a green post on sustainability. It’s a post on people. And we employee too many of them. Yep, that’s right. I said it. We have far too many employees. We have whole people doing half a job. My research would suggest (if I actually did it) that in any given 40 hour “work week” no more than 32 hours, on average, is spent on quantifiable effort toward the job as actually defined. So for every 10 people, 2 of them are waste. No I can’t really back this up. But between bathroom and smoke breaks, a little Facebook, personal Email, chatting it up in the hall, daydreaming, thumb-twiddling, downtime for IT mishaps, and the endless meanderings off topic at meetings, you have to admit there’s a lot of waste in the work week. And that’s before you even begin to consider any number of inefficiencies baked into the company’s systems and processes. Oh shut it, your company has crappy systems and processes. I know it does.

We should spend half the time we put into justifying a new position justifying the ones we already have. For every reason you give me for keeping that employee, I can give you ten for giving their work to someone else…or for eliminating the work they’re doing entirely. I was at a restaurant on vacation last month. There were 25 people dining at the same seating – 6 tables. There was one Chef and one Server. No sous chef, no busboy, no hostess, no bartender. Two women. That’s it. This wasn’t an anomaly. It wasn’t that the staff called in sick. This is how they did it night after night. And they did it very well.

Do you know why it’s taking so long for our unemployment rate to come down from up high? While there are so many reasons, I’m convinced one of them is that Corporate America has discovered how good it feels to have shed a few pounds over the last three years. And I’m thinking it could afford to shed a few more.

Image Credit: Jill Clardy

  • ArronDaniels

    Fantastic article. I agree there is definite downtime in the workplace and some inefficiencies, there are things we could do to run leaner, and there are processes that could be re-defined to trim time. Favorite line- “Oh shut it, your company has crappy systems and processes. I know it does.”

    I wanted to comment on the human capital aspect. You will always have inefficiencies and unproductive moments because of human nature. Driving productivity is necessary but not to the point it affects the retention efforts and creates a “burn out.” My previous employer had an expected three year cycle where burnout was a huge factor. There is a fine line to walk keeping your employees actively engaged and pushing them out the door.

    Great, great, great article. It should make readers think about their own productivity and maybe not responding to the Facebook barbecue invitation! Thanks for the share. But since I am commenting here, maybe I am the pot calling the kettle black?

  • hrfishbowl

    Arron, thanks for your thoughtful comments – well said in each regard. There is no question that there is a fine line between slave driver and productivity optimizer, but i believe many HR professionals and the leaders they serve allow their fear of crossing that line gets in the way of their playing that important latter role. we have to be willing to make tough decisions as much as the next guy. thanks again for your comments and compliments.