Busy Work

I was standing in line at the bank the other day with about eight other people.  There was one teller, but I could see four other people sitting at “closed” windows looking very busy.  Eight customers in the queue – one teller.  Four other bank employees with their heads down trying not to make eye contact with any one of us.

I see this a lot.  Sometimes people (employees) want to get lost in their work so that they don’t have to do the the stuff they like less or they may find less enjoyable.  They like to do the “busy work”.  The tasks that need doing – sometimes important, sometimes not – but it is rarely the work that would make the difference to the business or their customers.  Filling out paperwork despite a long queue of customers.  Taking inventory.  Meetings.  Reports.  Unnecessary appointments.

The nature of what may constitute “busy work” is different for every business, but it exists in every one.

Busy work usually exists in organisations where there is a lot of bureaucracy or, more importantly, when employees are not empowered to or measured on making the right decisions.  In other words, there is a lack of attention on being effective.  An effective employee is able to prioritise jobs/tasks that are required at the time they are needed.

An effective employee will stop the paper pushing and help his/her colleague reduce the queue of customers.. and then return to the work that they were doing.

An effective employee is able to excuse themselves from or postpone meetings or appointments when other, more important tasks are required.

An effective employee is concerned with results and not just activity for activity sake.

My recommendations on how you can become more effective or get your staff to become more effective are:

1. Empowerment.  Every employee must know that they are responsible and accountable for their day.

2. Responsibilities / roles.  Every employee must understand their purpose and the goals of their job.  Ensure that they take responsibility for their job.

3. Measurement on Results.  Goals, KPI’s, Report Cards, etc – ensure that the primary focus is on results and not necessarily activities.

4. Recognise.  Reward or recognise the behavious that your are trying to encourage – decision making, effectiveness, etc.

Being highly effective is a matter of getting the right things done at the right time.  It is a skill that can be learned and nurtured – but you need to create the right environment for it.