We live in a society where constant productivity and accountability are highly sought after. Some middle manager needs to keep to her KPI (key performance indicator - the measure that determines if a job is being done), and those KPIs are invariably in some way linked to the KPIs of the people she manages. Those people then do everything in their power to keep their KPIs high.
The best way to keep your KPIs high and your manager happy goes something like this...
Someone asks me how long it will take to get a job done. I think it'll take 5 hours. I tell them 10. They give me the job. I report in my time sheets that it took 9.5 (or 10.5) hours. I'm within tolerance (a KPI) and and marked as productive for around 10 hours (another KPI). In reality it too me 4. Or 6. Or 8. It could even take me twice as long as I anticipated. I'm still within reasonable tolerance and have met my KPIs.
Now examine what my actions have caused. Our client has been charged for 10 hours of my time. I only needed 4. Or 6. Or 8. Who knows. I could have taken 10 hours and been particularly laid back. I could have done it in a concerted 3 hour block and then checked facebook for the rest of the day. The client is billed for all that time.
Today I took it easy. I was booked on a job that required me to make 4 changes to a web site. I have no idea what the effort would be because the person who assigned the tasks to me didn't give me enough information to reproduce the error. I started working on the company web site. There was a one hour training session that 10 people attended on an company my employer just bought and we need to know something about them. It was mandatory (even though only 10 attended). I could summarise it in an email in 30 minutes. It would take you 5 minutes to understand. That's less than an hour and a half total effort instead of 10 person-hours of meetings.
I was over 80% productive today - met one KPI. I did everything in around the time that was expected of me - another KPI. And yet I didn't actually produce anything that made my employer money.
Sometimes it doesn't pay to keep your workers busy. Sometimes it's counter-intuitive. Combine this with presenteeism, a presumption of distrust in employees and other effects of management processes that alienate employees and it's any wonder anyone's driven to perform at work nowadays.
This would be a gripe, a moan, a pointless negative post if I didn't offer any alternative perspectives, any pointers to other ways or solutions, so bearing in mind I don't know your situation, your environment, your employer or your industry, here are some alternatives that you might consider as an employer, or you might suggest to your employer.
Results Only Work Environment: pay people for achieving targets, results, milestones, tasks, objectives. Sure, there are deadlines, but being in 9-5, M-F is not a prerequisite for work to be completed.
Hot Desking: This can work in two ways. You might have fewer desks that employees, and allow people to come and go as they please, work from home, etc. Or you might have a place per person, but they choose where to sit. They could work in the workplace kitchen, in a small room, in the den with the TV blaring, at a normal desk. They could choose to work near their team or by themselves. Whatever they need at that point in time to be in the flow.
Telecommuting or Working from Home: if your industry supports it, consider allowing your employees to work from home. If they don't need face-time, to see clients or to give presentations, why have them spend their time commuting? Let them work from their home - they're comfortable there. This requires not only discipline on behalf of the employee, but also trust from the manager. Did you know that while 75% of managers say they trust the people they manage, 67% need to see them?
There are more progressive ideas too, such as completely delegating responsibility to the staff members, opening the company books for all to see and allowing employees to choose their own salary. Make them all non-voting shareholders with a decent stake in the company.
Lots of food for thought here. I'd love to hear your opinions...