It’s inescapable. Inevitably many of us have or are at present spending time on work or projects which can be classified as busy work. We don’t like it, but we’ve convinced ourselves, or better yet someone tried convincing us, that the work or task needs to be done and done by us. Much to our chagrin.
Welcome to the trap of a nasty little productivity killer called non-value add work. Also known as mundane, tedious and even boring work.
Non-value add work takes on many forms and shapes depending on the business you’re in and your respective your role within the company.
If you’re an engineer tedious, non-value add work could include drafting, documentation and report writing. Your passion is designing next generation products but you’re inundated with a slew of tasks which are anything but new and exciting. Perhaps you’re in a leadership role and as such find yourself scheduling meetings, setting up company events, or ordering lunch for your team, etc.
While none of these tasks are of absolutely zero value, when you take into consideration the person doing them they all of a sudden fall into the category of non-value add work. An executive spending time ordering lunch for their team is a poor use of their skills, compensation and time. That doesn’t mean it’s below the person to do so, it means it’s a terrible measure from a productivity standpoint.
For example, if you’re a senior engineer making $125k annual salary and you find yourself doing documentation work periodically throughout the week in essence your company is now paying someone 2 or 2.5 times more to do the work than the person who should really be facilitating it. This of course only looks at the financial side of the equation, it’s also important to take into consideration how the employee feels doing work that is tedious or of non-value in comparison to their skill level.
The biggest fallout of employees being inundated with non-value add work is it takes times away from them focusing on core mission critical work that directly impacts the company’s bottom line and or has the biggest return on investment.
Most employees have an instinctive ability to know when they’re in situations of doing work that isn’t aligned with their skill set, it’s their managers that have a hard time recognizing it and therefore taking corrective actions to improve work flows and employees performance.
For all you managers who struggle with identifying when your employees are stuck with non-value add work, this one’s for you. Symptoms include:
1.Work or tasks they’re doing can be done by someone else at a significantly reduced cost
2.Your employee spends 80% of their time on 20% of their work responsibilities (Pareto Principle)
3.They become increasingly negative and withdrawn, displaying a cynical attitude and uncooperative team mentality
4.Your employee ‘mails it in’, meaning they do just enough to get by but their heart isn’t in it and as a result the quality of the output suffers
When your employees are happy they in turn will do their best work; much can be said for when they are unhappy or burdened with work they deem a poor use of their skills or time the output will often be poor. This doesn’t mean you have a bad employee or one that is incapable, it may just mean you have someone who’s heart isn’t in the work they’re doing. As a manager it’s ultimately your responsibility to identify this and do something about out.
So what’s the bottom line here?
Non-value add work leads to poor performance and unhappy employees. These two items lead to employee attrition which is a huge cost towards the company.
As managers, how do we go about combating situations where employees are burdened with work that isn’t in alignment with their skills and or isn’t a value add to the organization?
The two best answers to solve this problem are remarkably simple:
1.Shift the work to another employee who’s skill set is better aligned with the task at hand (ie – have a Drafter or junior engineer do drawing revisions, not a senior engineer)
2.Consider outsourcing work such as drafting, design, technical writing and document control to a reliable supplier
Both of these solutions can help you get to the promise land where your boring, tedious, non-value add work is done well and your employees can go back to being the happy go lucky people they’ve always been. When your employees are able to focus their efforts on the mission critical work you hired them for the company as a whole benefits.
Key Take Away:
Recognizing your employees are being burdened with non-value add work before it becomes a problem is key to keep your employees happy, working diligently and employed within your organization. No one likes to do work that isn’t of interest to them, at least for significant periods of time.
Read up on the Pareto Principle. Begin aligning your employees with the tasks that represent the highest and most valuable output to the company and in line with their skill set. Following the Pareto Principle, these tasks often represent 20% of the employees work responsibilities, yet attribute to 80% of their successful work performance and therefore company performance. When you identify tasks which are distractions for your employees and remove them from their workload you will see in short time your teams effectiveness soars in parallel with your employees general demeanor and happiness at work.
Are your employees burdened with tedious, non-value add work? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges.
You’ve got all the work in the world and not enough hands to complete it. Sound familiar?
This situation plagues all companies, large and small, tenured and brand new alike. No company has endless resources, especially not on the employee side of things and as a result it’s a constant consideration for every company balancing work output and the resources needed to do so.
When we’re buried with work most of us are fond of deploying the age old strategy ‘do more with what you have’. We ask our peers and employees to roll up their sleeves and put in the hours. Come in on the weekend. Camp out under your desk for a couple nights, it’ll be fun. Burn the midnight oil, so to speak. Kaplan Business School hit it on the head when they described this situation as “unrelenting, incessant amounts of work, which seems like there is no end to”. An important notation here is that this situation differs greatly from periodic times throughout a given year when work may increase for short spans. (ie holidays for retail businesses)
While the ‘roll up your sleeves and do more with what you have’ approach may work in a pinch it’s a strategy that can have disastrous unintended consequences, consequences that far out weight the value received by stretching your resources to meet demands.
When we load up our internal teams, employees and resources with heavy workloads it is common to experience:
-Increase employee stress and health issues like depression and addiction
-Business overhead costs soar exponentially due to overtime expenditures
-Even unnecessary legal and human resource expenses can occur if an employer isn’t following their States laws which address required breaks, meal times, etc; this also includes situations where employees feel they are being mistreated as seek legal protection as a result
What’s incredible is the cost that is associated with long term unrelenting amounts of work. Stanford University Graduate School of Business estimates burnout cost the US upwards of $190 BILLION in healthcare costs in 2015. During which it’s further estimated 120,000 deaths that year were attributed to workplace burnout and stress.
If you’re looking for the problem statement in all this, well there it is and its about as tangible as it gets. Work overload at the office is a direct contributor to employee burnout, rising business and healthcare costs, and even death.
While the stats may be disheartening on an initial pass the good news is there’s a solution to this business problem we all face.
Solution to work overload & burnout = utilize outsourcing solutions!
Outsourcing comes in many different forms. It can be as simple as having a supplier pick up additional projects or as complex as completely remoting work offsite as many companies do with shared service business functions like accounting, customer service/ call centers and shipping/ logistics.
Our company recently got a call from a medical device customer asking for our help with a concept design project. We learned their internal team had been at max capacity for several months trying to meet a deadline and were struggling to get to the project. It was technically within their capabilities but would take their main designer several days to get up and running as he hadn’t done this type of work prior. Could their designer have figured it out eventually? Sure, he’s a smart bloke, certainly capable. However, the time it would have taken him to learn how to do the project versus the time our staff could handle it were two different things. It’s the difference between something we do everyday and something they do once in a blue moon.
The customer made a smart business decision in looking at the work they had in front of them and identifying pieces of it they could outsource to be handled by someone else with the right expertise. The mini design project, as we’ll call it, took our expert designer only 32 hours to complete whereas the Director at our client informed us that would have been the time, at a minimum, it would have taken their internal designer just to learn the technique to get the job done.
With this mini design project being handled by our team our customers resources were able to stay focused with their respective tasks at hand without having to divert their attention for a week or two to then jump back on their original work which was waiting for them the entire time.
Our customer eventually met their deadline while simultaneously completing their concept design project via our staff AND keeping their staffs morale at a positive and manageable level given the workload.
Key Take Away:
Think beyond the age old approach ‘do more with what you have’; sometimes the best solution is to lean on someone else to do the work so you can keep your employees happy while successfully managing internal morale.
Review your project charters to see what work you can package up, either the entire project or pieces of it, to outsource to a competent supplier. Simultaneously pull data on all employees to identify the average amount of hours a week your workforce is putting in on your behalf. If your average number of hours worked per employee is beyond 50 hours in a 5 day work week you’ve got some work to do.
In need of someone to help you with additional engineering and regulatory work? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help your solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.