The Under-Utilization of City Employees

I went to work for the City of Los Angeles on December 15, 1958. It didn’t take me long to realize that employees are the City’s most valuable — and the most expensive — asset. But I had to work in an operating department before I really understood that employees are also the City’s most under-utilized asset.

When I say City employees are under-utilized, I mean that, as a group, City employees are less productive than they could be — they do less work than they might reasonably be expected to do.

Now, City employees are under-utilized in a number of different ways. This column calls attention to employees who devote less than full time to their jobs. They come to work late. Before they do any work, they read the newspaper and have a cup of coffee. They take long rest breaks and long lunches. They make personal phone calls on City time. They leave work early. They take a sick day to see a game at Dodgers Stadium. And in various other ways, they take City time to serve themselves.

In City Service, time theft is a fact of life. It’s widespread — everybody does it. It’s generally ignored. But it’s wrong. And it’s got to stop!

Time theft cheats the public. Do the math: For Fiscal Year 2013-14, the City’s budgetary departments will maintain a workforce of 31,880 employees. If, on average, each one steals an hour a day, the City workforce will lose the equivalent of 4,000 full-time employees. And Angelenos will pay an estimated $120 million for services they didn’t get!

Time theft is a management problem. Department Managers must make it clear, by exhortation and example, that all employees owe the public a full day’s work every work day. Employees must know that time theft is unacceptable!

Beyond laying down the law, Managers should tell employees how important they are — explain how employees’ work is linked to the Department’s mission. (Managers could use that explanation credibly if, instead of rating employees’ traits and work habits, they evaluate what employees actually do on the job.)

Employees should be encouraged to see themselves as a Management partner with respect to their Department’s mission. That suggestion would be especially attractive if employees know their Manager cares as much about their job satisfaction as he/she does about their job performance.

There are other actions department managers can take to discourage the theft of City time. But the truth is, in a democracy government belongs to the people. If we — you and I — really want good government we’ll raise our voices at City Hall!

Send your questions and comments to samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.

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