Want to increase productivity? Cut employee hours

Management’s poor regard for employee time is one reason intranets fail, contends this expert.

When an employee is salaried, managers don’t care about their time. They think it is elastic. This is why intranets perform so poorly.

It was a hot summer evening in Houston. I was walking to the car park with John, a member of an intranet team for a large organization. “Management doesn’t care how long it takes us to book a meeting room,” he said resignedly. “They just think we can work longer, later.”

I was sitting in the office of the head of IT for another large organization. “If you tell me that you can save me a man year,” he said with a smile on his face, “I want to know which man I can fire.”

Another senior manager scoffed at the idea of saving five minutes every time a staff member wanted to find a location. “They could be out smoking a cigarette during that five minutes,” he said.

Time is the essence of the world we live in. It is the scarcest resource. Those who manage time well will triumph. This is nothing new. The original management concepts by Frederick Taylor and others were focused on the management of the time of factory workers.

One thing Taylor noticed was that the longer you made people work, the less productive they became. They resented the long hours and found ways to take their time back, by taking longer breaks or continuously talking on the job. In one factory he reduced the working day from 11 hours to eight, and productivity shot up. Taylor quickly realized that it’s not the quantity of time people work, but the quality of work they do during the hours they are working.

The modern offices we work in today are about as efficient as the factories that Taylor walked into in the late 19th century. A French company, Atos, recently announced that it is seeking to ban email in order to reduce inefficiency. Atos also claimed that 25 percent of staff time is spent looking for information. I read a quote from an Intel manager that said employees lose a day a week trying to find the right person.

The problem is getting worse. Marc Peter, director of technology at LexisNexis, which conducted an International Workplace Productivity study in 2010, told Fox News that an increasing number of employees are reaching “breaking point.” Where is management, particularly senior management?

To start solving the problem we need a transformation in management culture. “I don’t have a problem finding people,” a CEO once told me. Obviously he didn’t. He had a secretary.

We have to start taking employee time seriously. Intelligent management is about getting the most out of every hour an employee works, not about getting as many hours as possible out of the employee.

A couple of weeks ago I walked with a group to a hotel meeting room. “It’s much easier to book a meeting room in this hotel than in our own offices,” an employee told me. What were the chances of the booking process being simplified, I asked? She just laughed.

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords and New Thinking email newsletter. Contact Gerry at gerry@gerrymcgovern.com.


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