One of the many exciting “other duties as assigned” I enjoy during this, the worst month of the year, is that of circus roustabout. It’s toting, hauling, setting up, shifting, tearing down, followed by more hauling and toting. This time of year, my position description might as well read “Laborer, General” as opposed to anything that has “analyst” in its title.
Today’s major project was retrieving a dozen “VIP chairs” from one auditorium, loading them onto pickup trucks, driving them a thousand yards, and then unloading them into another auditorium so there could be a nice matching set on stage. I was reminded with every bit of toting and hauling why furniture moving is the kind of thing I happily pay someone else to do these days.
Believe me when I tell you I don’t in any way presume that moving furniture is beneath my dignity. I’ve had far worse jobs for far less pay… but then that’s kind of the point, I suppose. By the time you add up the hourly rate of all the people involved in shifting these twelve chairs and account for their individual overhead rates (to account for non-salary payroll costs), it would be far more cost effective to outfit each auditorium with twelve matching chairs instead of paying people to shuffle them from building to building as needed. If you assume a fifteen year life cycle for a chair that’s only used a few times a month, it’s an investment that would pay for itself in the first five years. That’s before you even look at lost productive time or basic opportunity cost of having a bunch of analysts move furniture around instead of working more “high value” tasks.
I’m sure there’s a parable about the nature of bureaucracy here. I try not to dwell on it too much.
1. Surprises. I will never in my life understand why anyone likes being surprised. In my experience being caught off guard, having a bombshell dropped in your lap, getting a wake-up call, or enduring a rude awakening are all fundamentally bad things. It is, sadly, impossible for any one person to know all the things and to be prepared for all the eventualities. Even so, that doesn’t mean we have to like getting blindsided even in the exceedingly rare case where it’s a “good” surprise.
2. Decisions. Look, if you’re not going to “empower” me to be a decision maker, the very least I should be able to expect is that someone up the line will actually be making decisions in something approaching a timely manner. Sure, some questions are difficult and need great thought and discussion, but mostly are run of the mill and answerable as part of a simple yes/no or this/that dyad. Getting the answer shouldn’t take weeks and slow every project down to the point where forward progress can only be measured in a lab environment by high-precision lasers.
3. Training. My employer has made a few stuttering baby steps towards eliminating some of the onerous annual training requirements that eat up time and net very little in the way of return on investment. However, they still insist of gaggling everyone up for far too many of these “valuable opportunities to learn.” After fifteen years on the job if I haven’t learned not to be a rapist or walk around making sexually suggestive comments to my coworkers, I’m not sure the 16th time around is going to generate that magical “aha moment” they seem to want. At least the box is checked for another year… and that’s what really matters.
There may be nothing in this great land of ours more useless than an government office on the Friday before a federal holiday. If you’ve ever worked in one, you know that’s not an exaggeration. Between people taking leave and the magic that is the Alternate Work Schedule program, no more than half the staff shows up to begin with. Around noon another 10-20% disappear to start their weekend. If anything was getting done to begin with, you can forget it after 2:00. The handful of people manning their desks are just a skeleton crew, left behind to give the illusion of productivity and even at that they’re not working very hard. Every eye falls on the minute hand as it sweeps its way around the clock to the earliest possible moment for departure.
I’ve always worked with a lot of people who take these days off since “nothing’s going to happen anyway.” I’m a bit of a contrarian about time off, though. Why burn up eight perfectly good hours of leave on a day when no real work is going to happen even if you do spend the whole day at your desk? I’d much rather save my time off for days when all hell is breaking loose. It’s a matter of extracting maximum value from every hour away from the office. Time off isn’t much good when I’m relaxed already. Feel me?
If Uncle wanted to save some scratch, he’d go ahead and shutter every office on the Friday before a holiday weekend. Whatever small amount of productivity happens is almost purely accidental and can’t come close to offsetting the cost of just turning the lights on.