Tuesday, October 06, 2009


The Shuffle, or, The Hidden Cost of Savings

With the budget situation continuing to worsen, we're often unable to replace people when they leave. When the people in question are full-time staff with relatively niche functions, things get complicated.

In the world of small private businesses, it's a matter of saying “Steve, you pick up this half of Mike's job, and I'll pick up the other half.” Or, “we just won't do that.” Or, “Steve, do Mike's job and your own.” Notice how short each of those solutions is.

What follows is a list of issues that come up when a unique staffer leaves a unionized public employer in a down year. It could also be titled “corporate managers are a bunch of sissies.” It works like this:

Back-office function done by one person. That person leaves. We don't have the money to hire. We have to reallocate that person's duties to other people. Various others have some competency in some aspect of the original job, though it's variable and scattered. Some are currently swamped; others are part-time and want to be full-time.

Some of the duties fall under a different pay grade. Some fall under a different bargaining unit. Some are grant-supported, and can only be changed in very specific ways, or with written dispensation from the grantor. Some duties fall under a different supervisor. Any of these changes have to be negotiated with the union/s (“impact bargained”). Does this constitute a minor change – and therefore something that can be done internally – or is this now a new position that requires a new pay grade determination and an external posting, complete with a search committee? If the latter, is the interim eligible to apply? What if s/he loses?

Making a change here would make sense, but we need time to figure it out. In the meantime we'll patch it. But patching it the easiest way sets a precedent we don't want to set. Solving it the right way would take a few months, but the person is out the door next week and things are happening.

The job descriptions need to be changed in HR. In midyear, the year's performance review criteria will have to be rejiggered to reflect part of the year doing job version 1 and part doing version 2. Any reclassifications have to be run through that process. Of course, reclassifications have to be consistent with statewide practice and any settled grievances.

The whole thing makes my head hurt. But it's a dance we've had to go through several times recently, and I foresee several more. All in the name of efficiency.

I couldn't make this stuff up.

Or, “Steve, do Mike's job and your own.” Notice how short each of those solutions is.

So doubling Steve's workload by managerial fiat is a solution? This is why we still need unions!
Unions are evil. How much much our high schools and public colleges would be without them....
I wonder how much longer before we start to offshore education?
oh Dean Dad - we are going through the EXACT same issue at our institution. Based on an outside study we have to find 'efficiencies' and that has often meant eliminating positions and then finding a way for remaining employees to do more. Which means in my particular situation a person who was paid at the top of his pay band for doing something 'full time' is now told that's half time (no reduction in duties) and many of the duties of the eliminated position now make up his other 50%. There has been much negotiation over whether this represents an increase in responsibility (duh, yes) and scope of the position and whether this warrants some kind of pay increase, however slight. The road ahead for that decision seems a long and tricky one. And then there's the issue that this individual is now splitting time (and pay) across two different units so the reviews will have to reflect that but there can only be one supervisor on record. We will work this out but I wonder how much we will have to compromise. AND, as you mentioned, we are the trial run for this kind of move and so we're being watched to see how it's done, how it works, how the employees and budgets are affected.

It reminds me of earlier last year when budgets were frozen in ways that did not make sense. We stayed at work late many nights worrying that this or that person would not get paid because we couldn't reach the state budget office to find out if our exception had been granted. We were having trouble reaching them because they were FLOODED with exception requests, valid ones, and they had to figure out how to respond.

Both ideas (freezing spending and streamlining work) have a lot of merit but the realities of implementation are just messy.
How else would you run a large organization with a tremendous number of different skills involved -- that almost everyone who works there depends on to pay their basic bills?

I mean, yeah. It's a nasty problem, but it's not nasty because of the formality. It's nasty because of the inherent absurdity of such large institutions.

But that's why managers get paid, because there really is stuff that isn't obvious that needs good organization. So that's cool.
Or, “Steve, do Mike's job and your own.” Notice how short each of those solutions is.

So doubling Steve's workload by managerial fiat is a solution? This is why we still need unions!
# posted by Anonymous : 3:54 AM

Good idea, Unions have the power to create money from nothing so once you have one of those you'll immune from these sort of budget problems.
After reading this, it looks like unions are a much bigger problem for managers than tenure, so I'm puzzled as to why you feel the reverse.
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