I’m currently working on a project for a client where every work group is very thinly staffed – a consequence of layoffs and hiring freezes during the Great Recession. These sorts of cost saving measures have helped some companies book record profits while still just brining in underwhelming revenues.
There’s an unaccounted for cost here though. Everyone is very defensive about taking on any additional work. There is no team spirit, go the extra mile, help a friend out. They have all retrenched back into their respective fiefdoms, and if it isn’t their explicit responsibility, well, figure it out on your own because I’m not telling you.
I don’t think I can understate how much wasted effort this creates. Time spent trying to find the right person, debating who the right person is, not to mention snide emails that sour working relationships, rejecting pleas for assistance. I am wholly convinced that more effort is spent arguing about whose responsibility it is than would actually be required to just chip in, regardless of who has it in his or her job description.
Some of this is cultural, no doubt, but this isn’t a company known for its toxic culture. It’s known as one of the best places to work in the US and one of the world’s most admired companies. The critical difference is that people are already being asked to do too much. Their hours are long enough and their email inbox overflowing. Work life balance exists only as a catch phrase on the Careers section of the company web site.
I think there is another benefit to the 80/20 rule at places like Google (20% of your time goes to pet projects). If you are going to free up 20% of an employee’s time for pet projects, then you have to be cognizant of the actual workload tied to the “job description.” Employees that are not overworked are more cooperative. They’re also probably happier, more creative, and more productive.
I understand the need for cost cutting, but instead of lay offs, companies should be exploring more flexible compensation structures that can adapt to macro economic conditions and the business cycle. Rather than reallocate the workload over fewer employees, effectively driving up the denominator of hourly wage equivalent for salaried employees, why not adjust the numerator?