Too much change leads to corner-cutting

Apr 10 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Organisations that repeatedly attempt to alter strategy in the name of improved efficiency will only creating an environment in which employees are overloaded and start taking short cuts.

According to research from the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis, too much change leads to overworked, cynical and slapdash employees.

"With overworked employees, and employees that endure multiple change initiatives, the workers get cynical," said Olin's Professor Judi McLean Parks.

"As a result, they produce work, but they don't care how they produce it."

"Especially in today's business environment, the drive to get things done is so strong that people will chose to reduce the quality of their work just to finish the job," said Li Ma, who collaborated on the research.

"Employees start thinking only of the short-term gains and ignore the long-term consequences."

The researchers said there are plenty of real-world examples that demonstrate their theory, from police officers making questionable arrests as part of a strategy to reduce crime, to journalists fabricating sources under the pressure to produce high-quality stories.

In one case, a China National Petroleum Corp. plant had an explosion that resulted in deaths, injuries and environment degradation. The company had been seeking higher profits, and decided to cut corners by over-weighting its production relative to safety and environmental concerns.

"Work overload and ambiguity about a company's strategy lead to worker cynicism and this cynicism influences employees to play fast and loose," Ma said. "The ends become more important than the means."

The research is based on a survey of 215 employees who were asked about their organisations. Those employees with low levels of cynicism did not display a tendency to cut corners; those who were overworked and whose firms kept revising its goals, were more inclined to pursue the most expedient way to get the work done which isn't always the most honest way.

"It links into the culture in most American workplaces," McLean Parks said.

"People feel they have to work 24-7. In fact, this country does work more than other countries and our workers are overloaded. All of that feeds the cynicism and impacts how people get things done.