Pen pushing saps managers' productivity

Nov 13 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

You spend years grafting and putting in the hours to earn that promotion into middle management, and what's it all for? According to new research, it's so you can spend more than a third of your day pushing pieces of paper around a desk and just a fraction of your time doing the fun people management stuff.

According to a study of nearly 1,300 mid-level managers around the world by consultancy Proudfoot, vast swathes of the average manager's working day are spent on unproductive activities.

The Global Productivity Report found managers spent 34 per cent of their time on administrative tasks and just a tenth of their time on training and active supervision of their workers.

Their workers, too, were not exactly buzzingly productive. More than a third of their time Ė 34.3 per cent Ė was spent on unproductive activities, up from just over 32 per cent recorded the year before.

This meant workers were spending 1.7 days a week on unproductive workplace activities, it concluded.

Managers spent in total 18.5 per cent of their time on unproductive activities, or the equivalent of just under a full working day per week, it added.

Yet, for every five point increase in the share of time managers spent on active supervision, the productivity of their workers, or at least the amount of time they on unproductive activities, improved by one point, the survey also found.

The managers were also asked to list their top six barriers to improving productivity.

Topping the list was a shortage of skilled workers, followed by a lack of good internal communication, red tape, rules and regulations, poor employee morale, high staff turnover and, lastly, the quality of their own supervisors.

However, the good news for British bosses was that the UK and Australia were the only two countries in the survey to have posted reductions in unproductive workforce time.

Australian workers generally spent the least amount of time on unproductive activities, while South African workers wasted the most time.

Most managers polled felt their organisations had the potential to improve productivity by an average of nearly 14 per cent over the next year. Yet, depressingly, they only expected achieve just under 10 per cent gains at most.

Worldwide, companies were under-performing when it came to productivity by nearly 30 per cent, the research argued.

Luiz Carvalho, chief executive of Proudfoot Consulting, said the findings should be both a wake-up call and an opportunity for companies.

Firms should be looking closely at the barriers that limit their productivity, such as unnecessary policies and procedures, bureaucratic silos, ineffective functions and a lack of skills for both workers and managers, he argued.

"Why are managers spending so much time on administration? Part of the answer is because they are buried under unnecessary paperwork," he said.

"We asked managers how many management reports they receive each month. The answer is ten.

"Then we asked those same managers how many reports they need to do their job. The answer was 6.6. Thirty four per cent of the reports managers receive each month are, in their view, unnecessary," he added.

"It is a time for a balanced, rational assessment of the landscape inside your company and in the marketplace.

"The companies which will thrive in the coming years are the ones who will not retreat in the face of these challenges, but will instead push forward, continuously seeking to become more productive and more competitive," he concluded.

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