The problem of wasted time emerged in a recent study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership and featured earlier this week in a strategy+business article. The study, which sought to understand the impact that unlimited connectivity is having on employee work and satisfaction, revealed a bigger problem -- that of wasted time. What employees really resent is not so much their smartphones as the bad management practices that force them to spend their business hours waiting instead of working.
The article examined a few of the trends contributing to this problem. Reductions that have resulted in "supersized" jobs -- employees now doing the jobs of two or three people -- have created bottlenecks and delays that ripple through organizations, impacting everyone's work. 83% of the study's respondents reported that their time is wasted by managers or colleagues with too much on their plate.
But the bigger issue, particularly damaging because it appears to be so widespread and ingrained, is the impact of an increasingly and overly cautious decision process. 90% of study respondents blame their wasted time on too many people being involved in decision-making processes -- even for relatively minor things. Follow-up interviews reveal an epidemic of self-protective activities. Managers feel the need to minimize costs -- at all costs -- and pursue wide involvement and buy-in as a form of self-protection against accountability and failure.
This is a reward problem on two different levels. On one level, too many organizations have been programmed to favor one resource over another -- cash over talent -- and they appear to be rewarding managers (inadvertently or not) for guarding cash like a miser while carelessly squandering employee time and energy. As the study notes:
In our survey, and in subsequent interviews, most of our respondents noted that they felt compelled to engage in self-protective, time-wasting activities, even when they knew it was suboptimal for their organization as a whole. They felt strongly that if they didn’t protect themselves, their careers could suffer. Would they receive a poor performance review that would reduce their pay, bonus, or promotion potential? Would they lose power within the organization? Would they get fired? Although companies may claim to encourage work–life balance and thoughtful risk taking, people pay close attention to what happens in practice. When organizations reward people—whether through reputation, opportunities, or promotion—for saving money even if they waste time, employees orient their behavior accordingly.
Should employee time be tracked as a resource expended in the same manner that we track cash expenditures? Should metrics be put in place to identify and reward leaders who get results while also being good stewards of employee time and energy? Should we be more thoughtful, more cautious about focusing recognition on those who work tons of hours? While many of these employees truly deserve appreciation for their commitment, couldn't this also be -- in some cases -- a red flag management-wise? (This is, of course a trickier balance than it might seem on the surface. Certainly the ROWE movement, developed in response to similar issues and concerns, has proven to have its own ups and downsides.)
Here's the second level on which this becomes a reward problem. Time wasting is frustrating and demoralizing. I would submit that it could be particularly so for high potential, highly skilled top performers. Those who are driven to make a contribution and a difference do not appreciate the obstacles that poor management practices throw in their paths. This makes time wasting an anti-reward, in that it could be actively working against the package of rewards you have carefully constructed for your top talent.
Are we properly accounting for the demoralizing impact of time wasting, and its drain on organizational productivity, in our own performance and rewards programs? Perhaps there should be a line item in those colorful total rewards statements where we deduct the cost to the employee of the poor management practices that lead to the waste of their time. We might be reluctant to do that math, but I suspect many employees are already doing it in their heads.
Are you ready to become famous for getting results -- with your compensation programs? Then keep in mind that Everything You Do (in Compensation) is Communication -- and check out the book by that title written by Ann and Cafe cohorts Margaret and Dan. Ann Bares is the Founder and Editor of the Compensation Café, Author of Compensation Force, and Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group LLC. Ann also serves as past President of the Twin Cities Compensation Network (the most awesome local reward network on the planet) and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Compensation & Benefits Review. She earned her M.B.A. at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, is a foodie and bookhound in her spare time. Follow her on Twitter at @annbares.
Creative Commons image "Tapping a Pencil" by Rennett Stowe