Organisational rain: Employees rebel against administrivia

Fiona Smith Columnist

Organisational rain: Employees rebel against administrivia

Published 06 August 2013 10:27, Updated 07 August 2013 06:52

Some employees are finding the ‘organisational rain’ they have to deal with is becoming too much to bear. So they’re fighting back. Photo: Tamara Voninski

Employer groups are like a dog with a bone when it comes to worrying away at productivity, but maybe they should just get out of the way and let people get on with the job. Workplaces are undergoing massive change and disruption. Everywhere you look, someone has found a new way to cut costs and each time it seems to make it harder for people to do their work. They may be taking away people’s desks, giving them inferior technology to work with, piling on tasks from people who have been sacked, making them beg to be reimbursed for expenses, infuriating them with poorly-designed performance review processes, and setting up even more complex reporting systems. Most people just want a job that is meaningful – and they want to do it well. We get a sense of self-worth from the work we do, and it is not because we think we will get a bonus if we “outperform”. But people are being pushed past their limits and what I am observing is a groundswell of people finding their own way of fighting back. Fed up with nonsensical edicts, administrivia and “organisational rain”, they are refusing to comply.Paying to work

An executive, who is required to travel for her job, has to use her own credit card for her expenses and then wait to be reimbursed.

“I’ve now got about $1000 outstanding, and I can handle that, but some of the younger people here can’t”, she says.

Some of those young people don’t even own a credit card and if she is travelling with them, she ends up paying their expenses too.

In a way, she is paying for the privilege of working there.

A man I know has given up his mobile phone because he resented the fact that his company expected him to have one, but pay for it himself. It’s a quaintly old-fashioned way to operate, but it makes him feel less exploited.

Subverting the system

A friend, an executive, gave his team access to the performance review system, told them to fill out the details and rate themselves and he would sign off on it.

They went out to lunch to do the “performance review” and the only requirement was that they must partake of the wine. They called them “red and white agenda items”.

They were happily “giving the finger” to a process that was pointless because it did not recognise the things that made them very valuable employees. As “knowledge workers”, their contribution could not be tied directly to dollars and cents.

Another man is just refusing to take part in the cost cutting modernisations taking place at his office. He has refused to take part in training for the new expenses system, which he regards as onerous and insulting in its penny pinching pettiness.

He says he will only leave the office when absolutely necessary and, if he has to take someone to lunch, he will make it cheap and claim it on tax.

He has also colonised a desk in the “hotdesking” environment and insists on sitting at the same place every day.

“In my view, my employer is making a lot of these processes as difficult as possible, so you really have to think twice about doing things like claiming expenses.

“These are corporate processes that are not convenient and do not help me to be more effective,” he says, on his landline.

“It is all about the employer, not the employee.”

Getting rid of ‘busywork’

Some companies, however, have attempted to streamline their processes without putting an extra administrative load on their staff.

At Pfizer, employees are able to offload the lower-value tasks to an internal business, called PfizerWorks, which outsources the “necessary evils”.

More than 10,000 managers send out to the outsourced support team work including secondary research, document creation, spreadsheet “jockey work”, meeting support, and project support (repeatable tasks).

There is also a strong case for keeping executive assistants – and not just for the very top levels of an organisation.

President of The Duncan Group recruiting company, Melba Duncan, says in the Harvard Business Review that an assistant on $80,000 per year, working for an executive on $1 million per year, must make that executive 8 per cent more productive.

This means, for instance, saving the executive about five hours in a 60-hour work week.

“In reality, good assistants save their bosses much more than that”, she says.

In their Harvard article Redesigning Knowledge Work , Martin Dewhurst, Bryan Hancock, and Diana Ellsworth detail the trend of shifting out lower value work to allow highly skilled people to concentrate only on their high value work.

They mention a US law firm that has outsourced its routine discovery work to a service centre staffed by lower paid lawyers.

An Indian hospital saves costs by having junior doctors, nurses and technicians prepare a patient for surgery and close up the chest cavity afterwards. The senior surgeons only enter the room when the chest is open and the heart is ready to be operated on.

Some schools in the UK are letting head teachers and principals concentrate on developing teachers by relieving them of administrative tasks such as budgeting, human resources, facilities maintenance, and community relations.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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