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Ask Slashdot: Does Your Job Need To Exist? 343

Posted by Soulskill
from the professional-soap-cleaner dept.
An anonymous reader writes "PBS has an article about the growth of jobs that really don't need to exist. It includes an interview with professor David Graebner, who's known for his 2013 article 'BS jobs.' The premise is simple: as technology has automated huge portions of work that used to fill the days for millions of workers, many jobs simply involve less work. How often have you sat at your desk browsing the internet instead of being productive? If your company is such that you can aggregate that lost time across a bunch of workers, you could probably reduce the headcount significantly if everybody just stayed on task all the time. But that's not even an expectation at a lot of companies. Graebner ballparks the number of effectively useless jobs at around 20%. (It's not that the individual workers are useless, just that there are, for example, 12 people doing the work of 10.) So, how about it: how much actual productivity goes into your 40-hour workweek? What about your co-workers? How many people could your company fire if everybody just paid attention all the time?"
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Ask Slashdot: Does Your Job Need To Exist?

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  • Obviously (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Obviously "work" fills other purposes for the human experience other than pure productivity. Just like the stated mission of school is academic education, but you certainly miss out if you don't mingle.

    • college has lot's of BS classes that not really need now days but the tech / trade schools have more of skills needed to do the job.

      • There is, apparently, a huge shortage of English teachers.

      • What do you have against Bachelors of Science??
    • Re:Obviously (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Z00L00K (682162) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:45PM (#46969203) Homepage

      Some work is in not in a linear form - it can be intense periods broken up with idle periods.

      Another factor is that a person is not always producing, but a competence resource. What is a five minute action for a person with competence can be a week long investigation for another - it doesn't matter if you have documentation, sometimes the volume of it makes it hard to sift through - especially if you don't know what you are looking for.

      Unfortunately not all companies values the knowledge an employee has and only looks at productivity figures - not the loss of production that may occur when the person isn't there.

      • Exactly this. Numerous times it took me 1-2h to solve what others spent weeks to investigate and find (and soundly failed the task). Yes, I work 2-3 hours a day, rarely more, and everybody knows it, however they value the outcome because that outcome is 10 times faster coming out than others'.

        My 2-3 hours a day often equate 20-30 hours for others. That, and the fact that I am awfully cheap more than make me valuable.

        • Re:Obviously (Score:4, Interesting)

          by NIK282000 (737852) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @11:04PM (#46970247) Homepage Journal

          As a maintenance electrician at a facility that runs a blast furnace I don't work every minute of my 12hr shift but when something does come up it I have to run, coke is not a cheap fuel to waste. My employer understands this, having me in the building to fix one problem all day can save them thousands in down time and lost product. I don't think they are about to consolidate me out of a job any time soon but that doesn't mean they wont try. Service contractors of every kind are getting more popular with businesses that have frequent need for repair or troubleshooting of equipment.

        • Re:Obviously (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Cederic (9623) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @06:17AM (#46971263) Journal

          The article's point though is that employing 3 people like you is more expensive than getting you to do 8 hours a day not 2-3.

          It's right too - assuming your 2-3 hours can scale to a full day.

          I'm not sure it can. I know that I can do more in a day than others get done in a week, and I often spend a lot of time just chatting to people, browsing the web, finishing early, etc as a result.

          If I didn't get all that 'downtime' then I wouldn't have the contacts/knowledge about the organisation that I use when I'm being 'productive'. If I didn't browse the web I'd lose track of industry changes, trends and activities. If I applied myself solidly then I'd burn out and add no value.

          So I don't measure by hours worked. I don't even measure by whether I get my job done, although I do get it done. I measure by the direct cost impacts I have on the company.

          E.g. last year in two hours I saved the company around 4 times my annual salary in direct storage costs. This year it's taken me 6 weeks of hard effort (and is stopping me getting my job done) but I've saved the company around 80 times my annual salary in upfront software licence costs, and an ongoing 15 times my salary in support fees.

          So as with you, and half the people this article refers to: Am I excess headcount, under-utilised, or an asset to the company?

      • Re:Obviously (Score:5, Interesting)

        by pla (258480) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @11:03PM (#46970235) Journal
        Another factor is that a person is not always producing, but a competence resource. What is a five minute action for a person with competence can be a week long investigation for another

        This.

        I wouldn't describe my job as "hard". I have about a 30% duty cycle, on a typical day. And yet, that doesn't mean you could replace three people like me with just me. When the time comes to save the day, I need similarly qualified "boots on the ground" to get everything done ASAP and minimize downtime. Compare that to how much it costs for a multinational to lost the ability to post sales for an hour, and I look like a goddamned steal.

        For the most part, I try to fill my spare time with "fun" projects that just happen to marginally benefit my employer. But when something goes wrong, having me there to fix it in seconds rather than letting the company falter uselessly for days at a time more than justifies my salary.

        Now, if they wanted to pay me somewhere around 5k per half-hour incident 15-20 times a year (and let me sleep in most days), hey, I wouldn't object. But Corporate America hasn't really matured yet to the point where they understand that it doesn't take a body at a desk to put out the occasional fire.
      • Re:Obviously (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @11:35PM (#46970379)

        Not to mention that we're expected to work long hours or "challenged" to hit pretty incredible deadlines, but there's only so much gas in the can. Periodically you just cannot code another line and need a break, but if you're not at your desk or otherwise online, you're not looking good. So you're off task, recharging. If you were out digging ditches instead of coding, they can hit you with the whip but the shovel can't move any further no matter how in shape you are.

        Some corporate cultures fill this down time with meetings, in which a lot of people's time is collectively wasted in the name of communication. Some see this as a form of productivity. I see it as waste every bit as much as looking at funny pictures of cats. Either way there's a limit to productivity, firing 20% and driving everyone harder is just not going to work.

  • by fey000 (1374173) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:00PM (#46968673)

    Yes, because human beings can totally stay 100% focused and productive during the entire day. Unless you're an unethical and lazy communist ofcourse.

    I wonder how many CEOs actually believe in this drivel...

    • by MiKM (752717) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:08PM (#46968727)
      What's worse is that many of those same CEOs probably aren't constantly focused/productive themselves.
      • by Hognoxious (631665) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:15PM (#46968783) Homepage Journal

        To an uneducated minion like you it may look like they're they're playing golf and having huge lunches with their buddies.

        Nothing could be further from the truth. They're, ummm, liaising with customers and, ummm, influencing key decision makers. I forgot, they're holistically enacting marketplace appraisal strategies at the C-suite level.

        • by mysidia (191772)

          Nothing could be further from the truth. They're, ummm, liaising with customers and, ummm, influencing key decision makers.

          In other words: they're doing things the Salespeople, Public relations, and marketing VPs should be taking care of.

        • by schnell (163007) <me&schnell,net> on Sunday May 11, 2014 @12:46AM (#46970613) Homepage

          ARRRRRRRGHHHH! Sorry to interrupt the Permanent Slashdot Management Hate-Fest, but please RTFA. This theory does not come from some MBA enclave or CEO roundtable. It comes from an ultra left-wing, anti-capitalist academic. It's sort of an extension of Marx's idea that capitalism dehumanizes workers by alienating them from their right to free creative labor by sticking them in brain-draining jobs that consume all their time. It's actually a bit of a muddled critique ("I will say 20% of jobs are BS but I won't say which ones") that attempts to convince people that they shouldn't criticize other jobs they might think were overpaid (like unionized auto workers, as specifically cited) just because the complainer has a job they are unhappy with. In short, it's a load of academic twaddle, but interesting as a conversation starter.

          Not to introduce Occam's Razor into a Slashdot discussion, but if CEOs actually believed this, wouldn't they, you know... just fire everybody with useless jobs? You know, to, like, make more money?

          And yet somehow Slashdot managed to turn a Bolshie professor's theory on the perils of capitalism into a thread about CEOs. This is part of why I dread clicking on any Slashdot story that involves money or capitalism because so many commenters here think they understand those things but so few actually do. There are many perfectly good reasons to dislike or disrespect most corporate CEOs, you don't have to go fabricating new ones.

      • by pesho (843750)

        What's worse is that many of those same CEOs rarely focused/productive themselves.

        There, fixed that for you.

      • by AK Marc (707885) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:59PM (#46968995)
        CEO's don't do *any* "work". They direct. They lead. They don't do. Most management is about control and verification, not actually doing anything. The more managers, the less work done, as the actual workers must spend more time in meetings and reviews and such, and less time doing anything.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by roman_mir (125474)

          I am a CEO / chief architect. I built my own software, found my clients, eventually hired employees, trained them, managing them to do useful stuff my clients need and pay for. According to you none of what I am doing is work. Funny, none of my employees know what to do or where money comes from that ends up being payed to them. Lets eliminate my useless job and see what happens to the company in a week.

        • by mysidia (191772)

          CEO's don't do *any* "work". They direct. They lead.

          No... CEO is just a title for the person who is the representative in charge of business decisions.

          It depends on the company. Some CEOs hold multiple titles. Some CEOs are 'hands off' and do not provide any direct leadership outside occasional administrative edicts and policy controls, and a small band of senior managers they appointed to handle the staff and day-to-day operations.

          It matters whether your company is at the scale of IBM, HP, Microsoft,

      • What's worse is that many of those same CEOs probably aren't constantly focused/productive themselves.

        Even worse is that OP's premise doesn't match the actual statistics [officevibe.com].

        Workplace stress is up. 80% of US workers work 48+ hours a week. Etc.

    • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:14PM (#46968773)

      Not only that but from the summary:

      How often have you sat at your desk browsing the internet instead of being productive? If your company is such that you can aggregate that lost time across a bunch of workers, you could probably reduce the headcount significantly if everybody just stayed on task all the time.

      Even if I was focused 100% for an 8 hour day that still wouldn't account for problems happening AFTER work.

      Or to put it another way, why aren't fire fighters putting out fires 8 hours a day and then taking 16 hours off (not accounting for lunch and breaks).

      Things do not happen on an orderly schedule. Tasks do not perfectly fit the time available.

      And who says that browsing the Internet is not helping me be more productive?

      This guy seems to have the assembly line mentality. If only the workers would stay focused we could speed up the assembly line by 15%.

      • by sumdumass (711423) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:14PM (#46969051) Journal

        You also have to account for expansions in volume or increases in business activities.

        An overly simply explanation of this might be a restaurant I once worked at. About 20 years ago, I worked at one as a line cook. One Friday, the dinner crowd just wasn't happening. The city had some festival thing going on. The manager who was new to the store decided to cut staff down to levels more accurate for the amount of sales while having wet dreams of being the GM's bitch or something. Most of the employees went into the bar section and had a drink after clocking out. Then we heard the crack of thunder, the power blinked off then on and about 30 minutes later, the dinner rush was on as strong as ever because it started pouring down rain and the festival closed. Except we had no way to accommodate the crowd effectively due to all the staff being sent home and/or drinking.

        So you sit there doing your thing with a little time to relax here and there because 12 people are doing the job of 10. Then one day, you start getting busier and busier then the boss hires another person and you have 13 people doing the work of 11 but all your customers are happy and being taken care of which encourages even more sales. Or you could have 10 people doing the work of 10 with the other 2 across the street getting drunk and when business increases, lose all or some of it because those 10 people cannot handle the increase.

        Some times inefficiencies need to be built in just so increased demand can be satisfied. It takes time to hire and train someone. It takes less time to have someone do a little extra work that they already do.

      • by Dahamma (304068) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @02:23AM (#46970799)

        Problem is, quoting the summary doesn't help understand the article, because the summary completely misrepresented it. It says "the premise is simple: " and then proceeds to totally mischaracterize the premise.

        I was about to add on to your indignation, but I went back and read TFA - and agree with much of it. Now the only thing I'm indignant with is the horrible title and summary posted on /. about an interesting article. I'm assuming you didn't RTFA or the article TFA was based on, since most of your points actually have nothing to to with the author's premise, just the bad slashdot summary.

        The real premise is NOT that the *employees* slack and so you can do math like "12 jobs doing the work of 10", etc. It's that the jobs themselves have a lot of useless make-work (often paper pushing) where there really isn't enough to do to even occupy someone in a 40 hour week, so people "browse the Internet" to look busy. And those people in that situation often know it (and based on feedback the author got, often hate it). It's browsing the Internet because there's nothing else to do, not to avoid doing something.

    • by Tom (822)

      I wonder how many CEOs actually believe in this drivel...

      Too many, because they themselves run on high-octane fuel all day, and the ass-kissers below them take care of their mistakes and fix things so the big boss has false feedback on his own performance. Combined with rather common narcistic or psychotic tendencies, resulting in a lack of comprehension that other people cannot or do not want to work under the same amount of constant pressure, this leads to a dramatic misjudgement of what a regular worker ought to deliver.

      I've seen it several times that managers

      • by BeerCat (685972)

        "I wonder how many CEOs actually believe in this drivel..."

        Too many, because they themselves run on high-octane fuel all day

        Except, of course, that they don't run high-octane, as they have delegated everything down to the workforce.

        The best bosses are the ones who know that they have delegated stuff, and (even better) avoid the "presenteesim" culture by deliberately knocking off work at sensible times (meaning the workforce can do likewise).

        The worst are the ones who really think that they doing all the wor

    • and if productivity keeps increasing they'll be more than enough of the ones that can to go around for the few jobs that're left...
    • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @07:27PM (#46969389)

      Yes, because human beings can totally stay 100% focused and productive during the entire day. Unless you're an unethical and lazy communist ofcourse.

      I wonder how many CEOs actually believe in this drivel...

      Most. I'm a pretty big advocate of the idea that happy people are more productive people. Every place I've worked at I end up on whatever "Improve everyones view of work!" committee they have. This usually means I get to have meetings with CEO's and VP's about how to get people to like their jobs better. The nonsense those people come up with is crazy.

      It's pretty typical that we'll have a few meetings where the VP wont even bother to read the minuets... then suddenly they appear one day out of the blue and it's inevitable that they have some trade magazine in tow that states that it's finally definitive! Workers don't really like money! What they like is company sponsored jogs before they clock it! or A plaque that rotates between team members to recognize special achievement! It never dawns on these 6 or 7 figure business geniuses that they've fallen for the typical "Tell them what they want to hear" nonsense that Seventeen magazine fools teenage girls with every day.

      I can show them pretty consistent scientific studies that show people like being VALUED by their employer. And while it's true, there is a threshold for wealth that once you've gone over it, further raises have little impact on their dedication to work, there's is also a lower threshold where if they are consistently under paid, they'll also feel as if they're not valued.

      The most important thing to convey to an employee is that they are important to the companies goals. They are valued and trusted. If none of those things are true then fire them, they're going to cost you more money than they'll make. Even a data entry person can do nothing all day if they really don't give a shit about your opinion anymore.

      My goals when in such groups is to get management to understand this. To make it obvious the company needs it's people. To not only value them, but value their entire family. Good health insurance. Programs for family members to deal with mental health issues, child care, etc... Then some big ticket things. Re-reimbursement for rare disabilities and such. You can do that and maybe a couple of your employees will take advantage of the programs. But the other 1000 employees will see that and think to themselves "Wow, that's great. If I leave and go work at that other place for $10k a year more, will they care about me that much?" Granted, in the grand scheme of things they probably will. But perception is reality.

      When your company has a major outage that costs a couple of hundred grand an hour while it's down, and a little known employee rises to the top and fixes it in a very creative way most executives will tell their manager to do something like give them a $50 gift card to Starbucks. How do you think that employee feels about that given that they're well aware of how much they just saved you? You know what's cheaper? Get off your ass, walk down there, and say "John, we really appreciate what you did last night. Really, personally, thank you. If you need to leave a little early today you go ahead, your manager told me how late you were up. Good job." That employee will be glued to that chair for the next 6 months guaranteed. Yet this never, ever, happens.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        I can show them pretty consistent scientific studies that show people like being VALUED by their employer. And while it's true, there is a threshold for wealth that once you've gone over it, further raises have little impact on their dedication to work, there's is also a lower threshold where if they are consistently under paid, they'll also feel as if they're not valued.

        I think you've missed the point here, it's not about what my expenses are. The basic idea is that I do a good job for the company, the company recognizes that and pays me a good salary - it's a win-win situation. Severely underpaying me means you're trying to exploit me, to pad your profit margins at my expense. Why should you stay with a company that's trying to screw you?

        • by khchung (462899) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @05:02AM (#46971093) Journal

          I can show them pretty consistent scientific studies that show people like being VALUED by their employer. And while it's true, there is a threshold for wealth that once you've gone over it, further raises have little impact on their dedication to work, there's is also a lower threshold where if they are consistently under paid, they'll also feel as if they're not valued.

          I think you've missed the point here, it's not about what my expenses are. The basic idea is that I do a good job for the company, the company recognizes that and pays me a good salary - it's a win-win situation. Severely underpaying me means you're trying to exploit me, to pad your profit margins at my expense. Why should you stay with a company that's trying to screw you?

          Exactly. Fools in HR like to parrot the idea that raises have little impact on morale, and use that as justification for not giving raises.

          Guess what? Giving raises IS one of the most clear signal that the company VALUES a staff, regardless of whether that person need the extra money or not. And the opposite is also true - NOT giving a raise is a sure fire signal to the staff that the company DID NOT VALUE his contribution, regardless of what management said.

          And if there really is a point where more money doesn't matter, why aren't there a maximum compensation for the CxOs?

    • by pla (258480)
      Another factor is that a person is not always producing, but a competence resource. What is a five minute action for a person with competence can be a week long investigation for another

      Google "101%" and you'll get an idea of just what level of BS most CEOs believe.

      They consider us fucking robots. Every second of downtime means lost productivity to them - Despite the fact that when I get the chance to browse Slashdot at work, it means everything works well at that moment in time.

      Meanwhile, if MSN lo
  • I once worked for a company that was always looking at a down hill spiral and could not afford to advance employees or give meaningful wage increases. The consequence was that workers mostly only wanted to work just enough not to be noticed or singled out. The rational thing to do was to pitch in and make things better but the workers almost universally refused to do much on the job. Worse yet some of the management had no clue as to how jobs could be improved or work output or quality improved. I
  • If (Score:2, Informative)

    by oldhack (1037484)
    If my aunt had balls, he'd be my uncle.
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:06PM (#46968715)
    20% effectively useless jobs? The number seems to be on the low side as in my place there are more than that who have the word manager in their title. When you group them with all the other time wasters and incompetents, it must be nearer 50%, as a lot of those individuals only work to feed each others' roles.
    • Re:Seems low (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tom (822) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:10PM (#46968743) Homepage Journal

      Bad managers (i.e. 80% of them): Yes.

      Good managers, on the other hand, are worth their weight in gold. Especially if you're a geek and want to spend your working hours with fun tech stuff, someone who handles the office politics for you and maintains your work environment, secures you the resources you need and generally removes obstacles from your path is priceless.

      • Re:Seems low (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ATMAvatar (648864) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:46PM (#46968959) Journal
        Sadly, many of the things that good managers take care of are caused by bad managers. One of the many reasons there are so few good managers is that they can get fed up with the bullshit, too.
        • Sadly, many of the things that good managers take care of are caused by bad managers. One of the many reasons there are so few good managers is that they can get fed up with the bullshit, too.

          That is the main reason I went back into engineering after over a decade of progressively higher levels of management jobs. I have a ton more fun being responsible just for my own work and not having to deal with the BS.

      • by gbjbaanb (229885)

        that's true. In the flat hierarchy I used to work, we got a incredible amount of stuff done. Customers and other regional offices were amazed, but the trick was simple - let people do what they're good at and cut down the unnecessary drivel and management.

        When a new director took over, he changed things so there was a huge hierarchy, and bought in a large project-management office and productivity plummeted so much I couldn't believe how bad it was.

        Managers exist solely to feed off the other managers in a s

      • Indeed. My boss, and particularly her boss, is awesome in that way. He takes care of all the politics and also makes sure we get what we need, so we can focus on the task at hand.

        He also reads Slashdot, so "hi Tony, and thanks."

  • moronic work model (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:07PM (#46968723) Homepage Journal

    If your company is such that you can aggregate that lost time across a bunch of workers, you could probably reduce the headcount significantly if everybody just stayed on task all the time.

    Only if you're an idiot who doesn't understand that downtime is necessary for every job that involves even rudimentary cognitive skills, and doubly so if you want creativity, no matter if it is artistic or problem-solving.

    The human brain is not designed to perform at 100% for extended periods of time. It evolved to run on a fairly lazy average level most of the time, and have reserves for bursts in times of need. Then it needs time to recover.

    In simple terms for managers: If you condense workload to eliminate low-performance times, your top and average performances drop and you end up with the same or less total productivity.

    • No kidding (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:25PM (#46969105)

      And that aside, there's the problem of things being tasked to capacity being unable to deal with surges when they happen. Like where I work we hire students to help (since we are a university). It is expected they'll spend a non-trivial amount of time sitting around, doing homework, etc. Why? Because when someone needs something done, we want to have a student to assign to it. If the students are working 100% of the time, well then anytime the workload increases, it means we have to delay things, we can't handle it then.

      Of course it isn't like they'd focus on work 100% of the time, even if we did have them fully tasked.

      There are just all kinds of reasons it doesn't work, and it is not unique to modern society. The past was NOT full of extremely hard working people who did nothing but focus on the job. That has never been true.

      You are always going to need more people to do a job then if each person theoretically worked to 100% capacity 100% of the time. Since in most places work loads vary, that'll also make you need more people since you need enough to deal with the peaks, not the nominal amount.

      This is life, this is how it has always been, and there's nothing wrong with it.

  • PHB's and meetings

    How much time is lost to meetings and other filler other then real work?

  • by mspohr (589790) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:10PM (#46968741)

    The history of the past 30 years has been that all productivity gains from people working harder, etc. have gone to the corporate owners, not to employees. It's not in their interest to work harder or longer because they won't get paid any more.
    Slackers unite!

  • by JimMcc (31079) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:14PM (#46968763) Homepage

    In the early nineties I was Director oif Development for a company that wrote and sold software to small telephone companies. We created a lot of automation into the process which allowed small companies to do much more than their staffing would otherwise allow. One prospective customer was a county owned telephone company. Their first response when we showed them all the features of our softwar ewas to ask if those capabilities could be turned off. Huh? Turns out that they viewed their primary role to be a provider of jobs within the county. Providing telephone service was considered secondary.

    So there's nothing really new about these finds. Just that he's getting noticed for writing about them.

    • Turns out that they viewed their primary role to be a provider of jobs within the county. Providing telephone service was considered secondary.

      If an organization thinks its role as a buyer of labor outweighs its role as a seller of services, that's when you break out the illustration of the broken window [wikipedia.org]. If the organization's leaders refuse to understand the fallacy they've fallen into, complain to the local newspaper's editor.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Turns out that they viewed their primary role to be a provider of jobs within the county. Providing telephone service was considered secondary.

        If an organization thinks its role as a buyer of labor outweighs its role as a seller of services, that's when you break out the illustration of the broken window [wikipedia.org]. If the organization's leaders refuse to understand the fallacy they've fallen into, complain to the local newspaper's editor.

        I'm not sure that this case is a good example for the parable of the broken window, in fact it could be considered a counter example.

        I do believe that the county telephone company's manager had jobs as a major consideration, but I also doubt that JimCC's observation "Providing telephone service was considered secondary" is accurate. In this case, they saw their choice as firing local people and sending the revenue from sales out of county.
        Sure, the money saved from automation could be then used for somethi

    • Yup, western governments tend to have an enormous rump of basically useless and really expensive middle management at all levels. It's a very undesireable state of affairs. I've known government agencies reject temp workers on projects purely because they might potentially jeopardise the fulltime workers' employment.

      • by JimMcc (31079)

        Later in life I started a consulting company. One of our clients was a governmental agency. At peak I had 4 full time employees there. As near as any of us could tell, the agency provided good paying jobs to a bunch of people, but hired consultants to actually get the work done because none of the employees had the knowledge or desire to be productive. This went on for years and my employees and I profitted handsomely from it; but as a tax payer it ticked me off.

  • Do you want to be working 100% of the day doing the job of 2-3 people or have at say an 70%-80% day over 2-3 people that gives you room for the unplanned stuff + gives you a way to take some time off that the other people can cover?

    Say some boss finds out that you can do work if you give it 100% all day that they don't need the other works and that also ends being that on your time off you are on call to do anything that comes up or that unplanned work is you better have dinner as an delivery as you are pul

    • Unplanned work is a good point. Not all businesses can perfectly anticipate future load, especially not businesses with walk-in customers. They need to keep employees on standby to keep customer wait times down in case it gets a sigma or two busier than usual.

      For another, if people were to split a responsibility, they'd have to switch between their present responsibilities and the new one, and switching between tasks that require concentration reportedly takes 15 minutes [www.yeap.de].

  • I'm off task probably half the day. Somehow I'm still able to be about as productive as my coworkers, who certainly seem to stay on task better than I do. Yay?
    • Yay! [tp-radio.de]

    • by BeerCat (685972) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:34PM (#46968907) Homepage

      "off task probably half the day"
      Which means that you are "on task" around half the day.

      Wow! You rock!

      Seriously, on a project management course some years ago, it was pointed out that the best individuals within an organisation can devote about 50% of their time to a task. The rest is taken up with (non-task) phone calls, meetings with others, summaries to your boss, and "personal needs breaks" (and lunch!), and so forth.

      The "average" worker can be expected to devote 33% of their time to the task, as they also have to contend with IT issues, "other worker" issues and sheer "I need some downtime" type stuff.

      So, if the article suggests "12 doing the work of 10" then that's an unrealistic 80% "on task".

      Now, if it was "12 doing the work of 3", then there would be a case.

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:16PM (#46968793) Homepage

    The problem is that if you do this, you remove all your slack. If you cut it to just enough people to do the work if they work 100% of the time, the first time someone calls in sick you don't have enough people to do the work. If you get a sudden spike in business because of a holiday or special, you don't have enough people to handle the extra work. If something goes wrong, you don't have anybody to assign to handle it without leaving you short-handed. And that's before you even get to the need for workers to take breaks during the day to avoid burning out.

    It's the same problem that's plagued just-in-time delivery of inventory. Sure it saves money to have stock and raw materials delivered just as they're needed. But the moment a storm or a port strike or anything delays deliveries, you're in a world of hurt because you don't have any inventory on hand to tide you over. Sure it's saved you money, but it's made your business much more fragile and the costs of even one shut-down can easily eat up any savings.

    • Well the key question the article is not addressing, is how much redundancy do you need?

      If the inability to take up slack would result in a catastrophic failure, or loss of money, companies should (and do) have a lot of extra slack. You see this in some support jobs where people are there as an emergency support only, but the down side of having an accident happen with no one on duty is much greater than the down side to employ someone to do mostly no work.

      On the other hand, some functions don't have such

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:27PM (#46968851) Journal
    Almost all the senior managers, are total time wasters. They either spend time plotting meaningless metrics like, "the user story points burn down rate" or "team velocity" etc. Clueless idiots add up story points from divisions that use 1 story point = 1 engineer day with other divisions using 1 story point = 1 engineer week. They think fixing one bug that was remotely root exploit is 10 time less productive than fixing 10 dialogs with mis aligned text field with radio buttons.

    We can easily lop off the 80% of the top 20% of the management, and since they are the one pulling in 80% of the total wages of the company, you might reduce payroll by a staggering 64%. But rest assured, they would rather cut 10 low wage employees rather than let go one of their own, even if that one fired VP can save more money, improve morale and increase productivity.

  • by raymorris (2726007) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:28PM (#46968861)

    Several commenters have pointed out that humans don't stay on task 100% of the time, so the question, as phrased, is silly. HOWEVER, if you don't over-specialize, or encourage people to spend a little time on things other than their core job, they can be productive while taking a break from the routine, instead of spending time on Facebook.

    For many years, I ran small companies. The companies did web security software and web hosting. A programmer could, however, take a break from programming and spend half an hour on industry related message boards, which was where most of our sales came from. Answering a support call, they might chat with the customer about all sorts of topics (customer relationships are important).

      I've often worked 60+ hours without getting burned out by varying my work. Just for one project I might shop for RAID cards and other components online, customize the hardware with hand tools, assemble the servers, install & configure the OS, write custom software for that server, etc. That way I'm productive almost 100% of the time, but don't get bored like I would in a company where one person does all of the purchasing, another person assembles hardware all day, and another installs software all day.

    I now work in a large agency, big enough that you'd expect specialization, but although I'm a programmer most of the time, I'm also invited to participate in other things - long term strategy discussions, designing the architecture of systems other departments are working on, etc. I don't spend any time at work on Facebook. I "slack off" by pitching in on projects that I'm not officially part of, doing work that's different from what I was primarily hired to do.

    * Every once in a while, I do look at Slashdot while in my office. Then again, I find work-related news and discussion here, and I also pitch our excellent free cyber-security courses here, so even Slashdot is somewhat productive.

  • by MindPrison (864299) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:28PM (#46968863) Journal
    ...because we're automating everything that we can automate.

    There are a few businesses that WILL boom in the future though, such as the fitness (sports) industry, as we...when we become less and less physically active, will need to find a way to keep ourselves fit. Many things will change in the future because of this. What I'm worried about though - is the coming mass-unemployment, the extreme difference between the rich & the unemployed. Human greed knows no bounds, we already know that from our own history. But we're also inventive and creative creatures, so we will find a way, but it's going to hurt before it becomes any good.

    Another business that will only increase, is entertainment - and advertisement. People won't know what to do with themselves as we get less and less stuff to occupy ourselves with. I suspect the Internet will be highly regulated, constantly battling with hackers (hacktivists) & crackers, the richer will get richer and the unemployed masses will be desperate for entertainment (which is good for the powers that be...because it numbs them down and make their dull lives easier, from the chair/sofa).

    Eventually the greedy will go to far, and the people will uproar and a civil war will arise from this. This is the "shift in our time", after that horrible period in time...with seemingly endless poverty and suffering, things will eventually even out and become MUCH better than we have now. Everything is automated, the need for money has been abandoned as we don't need to purchase anything. Everything we need will be produced by robots & automated food-plantages. Overpopulation will lead to further research into terraforming planets...

    ...Err...I'm going to stop now, before I embarrass myself. :)
  • Every IT job that I've had has been woefully understaffed. My current job is awesome, but even here we struggle to keep up with the workload.

    That's not to say that there's not a fair share of screwing off - as has been mentioned (I'm sure), a brief break helps a lot of people be more productive, not less (of course, as long as it's not done to excess).

    At other jobs I *did* spend far more time screwing off, but that wasn't because there wasn't enough work to keep me busy. It was because I worked for a mise

  • by Irate Engineer (2814313) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:30PM (#46968877)
    Peter Gibbons: Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door - that way Lumbergh can't see me, heh - after that I sorta space out for an hour.
    Bob Porter: Da-uh? Space out?
    Peter Gibbons: Yeah, I just stare at my desk, but it looks like I'm working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch too, I'd say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.
    Peter Gibbons: You see, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care.
    Bob Porter: Don't- don't care?
    Peter Gibbons: It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime, so where's the motivation? And here's another thing, I have eight different bosses right now.
    Bob Porter: Eight?
    Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that, and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.
  • Am I a slashdot editor? Am I Bennet Haselton?

  • Capitalism has a nasty habit of flushing out inefficient organizations, sooner or later. All the worse because we are now on a global scale where virtually every other country suffers a lower standard of living than us - which means they will work for less. If you are relaxed at work or looking for something to do, start worrying.
  • Right...because too many employed people is the biggest problem facing society right now. Oh, wait...
  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:10PM (#46969033)
    I noticed it in 2008 when the economy crashed. Companies fired like crazy, and when the economy recovered they only did modest hiring but maintained the same level of productivity.

    We're running out of work to do, but we don't have any socially acceptable way to distribute wealth w/o work. This should be fun.
    • by Hognoxious (631665) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:19PM (#46969067) Homepage Journal

      We're running out of work to do, but we don't have any socially acceptable way to distribute wealth w/o work.

      Of course not, that would be communism.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      I noticed it in 2008 when the economy crashed. Companies fired like crazy, and when the economy recovered they only did modest hiring but maintained the same level of productivity.

      Well, first of all I think all managers have a short list of people that aren't quite bad enough to outright fire for incompetence but who'll float right to the top if there's a downsizing. Secondly, never underestimate the power of busywork as often people puff up their job to be 100% but when it turns out 10 have to do the job of 15 and there's plenty to do for everyone you don't need to look busy because you are busy. Or if not outright busywork, then at least work that they've had no incentive to make m

    • by ATMAvatar (648864)

      We're running out of work to do, but we don't have any socially acceptable way to distribute wealth w/o work. This should be fun.

      Sure we do. It's called management.

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:14PM (#46969049)
    This would work for some jobs, but not most IT jobs (and not an awful lot of other jobs). For example, I have had jobs (and know of others) that had a lot of downtime during the normal course of events. However, When things got busy, it was urgent that the problem got resolved as quickly as possible. If the company had cut employees so that the staff they had left were busy 100% of the time, when urgent problems arose, no one would have had time to address those problems while keeping the routine that was necessary to keep the company running.
    The answer the type of person who does the studies in the article gives is to hire people to deal with those urgent situations when they arise. The problem with that answer is that those people will not know how the system is configured and will have to spend additional time figuring that out. No matter how well documented a system is, it will take someone who works with it every day less time to find their way around then it will someone coming in from outside.
  • Necessary waste (Score:4, Insightful)

    by radarskiy (2874255) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:43PM (#46969191)

    Let me introduce you to toe concept of "necessary waste".

    In your business process, there is some limiting factor that is directly tied to how much you can produce: if had some more of that factor you could produce more, and if you run out you produce less.Maybe it's some machinery for which you can't yet swing the financing to get more units; maybe it's a skill for which there aren't many people tried for yet. If you can't get more, then your next move is to make sure you are utilizing that limiting factor as much as possible.

    That means that the other factors that are inputs or outputs of the limiting factor need to be ready and waiting to make sure the limiting factor is never idle. If you are an input you need to have work prepared but your average rate can never exceed what the limiting factor can consume. If you consume an output of the limiting factor you need to be ready to pick up what the limiting factor gives you.

    If reduce the labor available for the inputs and outputs then you run the risk of creating artificial limits on your business process. You can actually be less productive when you try to eliminate idleness if you don't know WHY things were idle. Idleness isn't actually your target, it is productivity.

    Of course, all of this flies in the face of the slashdot conventional wisdom that management provides zero contribution to productivity.

  • ...if other programmers weren't so fucking ignorant.
  • by Xeno man (1614779) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:50PM (#46969231)
    When work comes in spurts and bunches you can look forward to the downtime in between. It can be a reward for getting stuff done. You can think that if I get this work done, I get a small break after or, if I work harder and faster to get it done sooner, I can have a big break. Think of roofers shingling a roof on a Friday. You don't see anyone standing around, they are on each others asses and by 2:00pm or so they are done the roof, packing up and starting their weekend early.

    When you have a constant workflow that never ends there is no real incentive to work harder. You look around and see one guy doing the bare minimum and another guy doing 3 times the work load. Both get payed the same amount and the work never ends. The hard worker might think he is more likely to get a promotion but management thinks if we promote that guy, we would need to hire 3 guys to replace what he does. Lets keep him right there so we can keep our production numbers up.

    The worst thing management can do though is fill an employees down time with more work. Basically you have punished a hard working person with more responsibility and work with zero pay increase. Unless you are trying to kill productivity.
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @07:10PM (#46969303)

    How often have you sat at your desk browsing the internet instead of being productive?

    Who says I'm not being productive then? Some (many?) problems cannot be solved via by simply brute-force thinking them through - a linear left-brain methodology. Many times, especially for more complex things, I need to let things peculate awhile. Ever get the solution to a vexing problem (an "ah-ha!" moment) while taking a shower? That's your right-brain solving something non-linearly.

    Going off and doing something completely different is a strategy for allowing a left to right brain shift -- keep the (usually) dominate left brain busy on something completely unrelated to the task at hand giving the (usually subordinate) right brain time and space to chime in. (read the book: "Drawing on the Right Side of The Brain" - and others on left/right brain)

    How many people could your company fire if everybody just paid attention all the time?

    Perhaps manyt, but how long would those people last/stay before burning out? There's more to work than "paying attention all the time".

  • as one more example? I work in I.T. as a computer support analyst. What does that title really mean? In my situation, it means I'm the only computer guy in the office, both for our office (where all of the finance people reside, as well as H.R., the company president, and another floor of "creative" folks who work directly with our clients), and for a second office in another city nearby. (That office has only about 10 employees, and a couple of them generally work from home, so they don't need a lot of a

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @07:51PM (#46969503)

    If I paid attention 40 hours a week, I'd be braindead within a month.

    I actually tried working 6.5 days a week when I first started my "real" software development career job - going into the 3rd week it became painfully obvious to me that I was making less real progress (mistakes, rewrites) though the overtime pay was nice...

  • I do the work of three men.

    Moe, Curly and Larry.

  • by rundgong (1575963) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @08:07PM (#46969577)
    If 12 people spend 40 hours each doing the work of only 10 people, there are two ways of eliminating the wasted time.
    They think two people have jobs that don't need to exist. A better solutions appears to be that all 12 people spend less hours at work.
    How would society benefit from having two more unemployed people instead of having 12 people that can spend more time with their kids (or doing whatever they want to do instead)?
    • by novium (1680776)

      Yes, exactly. You're the first person I've seen to bring this up, and actually, I think that was part of the professor's original point- at least in the paper he wrote. It's still kind of implicit in this article- the fact that we increased productivity so much that we could all be working fewer hours, but instead we kill ourselves on the 40 or 50 hour work week doing bullshit because that's what's demanded.

  • by RubberDogBone (851604) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @08:27PM (#46969689)

    My job has mutated over the years such that that I am now tasked with doing work on I don't actually know how to do, on custom systems I don't understand. As a result, I suck at it. I have told management this many times but they blink and look at me like I am speaking Martian and basically think I don't WANT to work.

    Anyway, I end up with a pile of work I can't do and a few things I can do and it is often a struggle to stay awake. I mean a serious battle between me and gravity pulling my head down to the desk. Snacks doesn't help. Three cups of coffee does not help. Even walks don't help: I am very good at falling asleep in motion.

    Yeah it scares me too. Terrifies me.

    The combination of boredom, lack of mental stimulation, and lack of ability to do the work leaves me physically devastated.

    I am told I am the least productive employee in the whole company so I am waiting around now to see if they will fire me, at which point I will go home and take a nap.

  • by EQ (28372) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @09:12PM (#46969881) Homepage Journal
    Try applying that 100% to RNs. How are you going to predict patients that get worse, that get better, that crach, etc. Impossible to predict workload of an individual patient. So impossible to get that mythical 100%. You need slack to be there when multiple codes hit a single ICU or unit, or when a big motor vehicle accident hits the ER and surgical staff. The article is written by some idiot efficiency expert who apparently has no idea how you need some sort of reserve to draw upon, both staff-wise and personal-wise. Running flat out for a full shift is enough to wreck even the greatest surgeon or nurse if done too often. Same goes for coders, having been both (RN and Sr SW Engr)
  • by LihTox (754597) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @10:03PM (#46970059)

    Asimov and others predicted a future where there wouldn't be enough jobs to go aroundubt they saw that as a GOOD thing. Humanity was clever enough to build machines to do all the work, and now we can kick back and enjoy some leisure time. George Jetson had a three-hour workday. But that vision can only work if we view our increased productivity as a benefit to *everyone*, and compensate everyone accordingly: a dividend for being a member of the clever human race (or if you want, a dividend for being a citizen/resident of a first-world nation).

    As more jobs are automated, it seems to me that there are three options: 1) we share the wealth, either with a guaranteed income or by raising wages while simultaneously cutting the number of hours people work; 2) we make a lot of fake jobs so that we can pretend that people are earning the money they need to live, and avoid the horrors of socialism (horror! horror!); or 3) a LOT of people drop into poverty.

  • by manu0601 (2221348) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @10:09PM (#46970085)

    Many people noted nobody can stay focused 100% of the time, and that productivity gains always go the the same. I would like to add a point on managing the unexpected

    Having too many people for a given task means there is some extra work capacity. This is required to handle unexpected situations. If anything unusual strikes and require extra work while there is nobody left idle at any time, then the company is doomed to fail the unexpected event.

  • by Sturm (914) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @10:28PM (#46970135) Journal

    Anybody who has done this long enough (and I think I have), knows that IT isn't like making widgets. We spend a large part of our time sitting around doing "nothing", (which usually involves hours and hours of reading and learning and generally being prepared for...), BAM!!! Something is broken!!! FIX IT 5 MINUTES AGO, AND IF YOU DON'T, YOU'RE GOING TO BE FIRED!

    I don't even know how you can truly measure *efficiency* in IT. If you have lots of customers and lots of employees and if neither have complaints very often, your IT department is probably doing a good job.

    The only way to know for sure is to go ahead and just fire us. If the SHTF, you made a bad choice. If not, you didn't.

    IT has been important enough for LONG enough, that most companies probably KNOW which is the best solution. If you are just now trying to figure it out, you've probably already missed the boat.

  • by reboot246 (623534) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @11:14PM (#46970295) Homepage
    There would be explosions with massive loss of lives and property damage. Believe it. I'm one of the very few dedicated people who do natural gas leak surveys. I find gas leaks that are, or could be, dangerous. If you live in one of the Southeastern states, there's a good chance I've walked through your yard or driven past your house at some point over the past 38 years.

    I've tried to come up with a way that my job could be automated, but I can't think of any. It requires boots on the ground, so to speak. Maybe one day somebody will come up with a small drone equipped with a laser that can fly through yards and over fences and behind bushes and dodging bad dogs, but I'm not holding my breath.
  • by JerryLove (1158461) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @11:41PM (#46970393)

    If we start with the premise that a 40-hour worker doesn't put in 40 hours (and I assume this is not talking about smoke breaks and bathroom breaks and such, but just really "browsing the internet to kill time" stuff)... how about shortening the work week?

    And BTW: We *need* BS jobs. If we got really efficient, you can start to expect unemployment >20%.

    Though if some of the BS jobs at my work would stop being sending me advertising in my email (seriously: in my building, which is only a few hundred employees, there are at least 4 whose full-time job seems to be telling me about hockey tickets, charity events, company socials, and Disney on ice)

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