Paweł Ha

@ha_pawel

Having Too Little To Do Makes People Unhappy

When you think about what makes people angry about their jobs, #1 reason would probably be overworking. Or not getting paid enough.

But here’s the thing:

People tend to be as upset about not having enough to do, as they are when they get overwhelmed with work duties.

I have been working in software development companies since I graduated from the university.

I know many web and mobile developers. I’ve learned about their struggles at work, their projects, work habits, etc.

There’s one story that particularly struck me:

A colleague of mine got hired by a big company as a senior developer. They offered him a team leader position. He got a bunch of benefits typical for the startup-like culture most software companies incorporate. And not a single project during first 14 days of work.

I mean:

What is the point of hiring a highly experienced employee, who plays Xbox for the first two weeks?

And the thing is — it made him unhappy. He wanted to show his skills, prove his experience and put his hands on new, amazing projects he had thought he would be doing.

This is common, reports say

Having too little to do has become one of the reasons people are unhappy with their work:

“the resulting boredom and lack of fulfillment on the job can be just as toxic as being overworked.”

85% of workers feel that they could do more, but the companies don’t use them to their full potential. Lost productivity equates to about $23,600 per employee and hundreds of billions a year.

Why is this happening?

When Lucy Kellaway asked Why is work making us miserable?, she assumed that our expectations outstripped changing office environment. That we expect too much.

I’m a Millennial, I’ve heard that already.

But maybe we just want to prove we can be valuable workers. As Psychology Today states, feeling underutilized hits especially younger people:

“Younger workers feel underutilized — that the low-level of work they do doesn’t adequately engage them, or fully utilize their skills.”

At the same time, half of Americans are unsatisfied with their work life. UK’s workers are getting the most dissatisfied with their jobs in two-years, CIPD finds. And the lack of engagement is one of the reasons why:

“Over a quarter of the respondents said they were dissatisfied with the opportunity to develop their skills in their current role.”

So are we really expecting too much?

This is why people quit

The problem for the companies is that having too little to do not only makes people unhappy. It makes them quit.

So if you run a company or if you are a project manager, please bear this in mind:

Not using employee’s full potential will make them go away.

In a highly competitive market like software development, the cost of losing a good employee is much more expensive. This is partially bond to a team-based nature of software development:

“the cost of losing good workers is rising, owing to tight labor markets and the increasingly collaborative nature of jobs.” — Harvard Business Review

Maybe we should all listen to Steve Johnson, when he says that not using employee’s talent is a waste.

Poor planning is killing your company

One of the main reasons of this situation is poor management. It’s not a lack of good will.

It is easy to lose a full control over employee’s time, especially in the bigger teams or in companies stretched over different time zones. We can add freelancers and part-timers to this equation too.

Managing teams is an arduous task, which requires flexibility and lots of control.

A good leader or project manager should be aware of the perils of resource management. Implementation of proper project tracking and employee management processes is crucial for using workforce effectively.

What to do with downtimes?

Downtimes — they happen to every software development company. What can you do about them?

There are three simple solutions. They may not only help you to battle employee underutilization, but also may actually benefit your company in the long run.

R&D, side projects, and hackathons are great examples of keeping your employees motivated and engaged.

Doing these may help to benefit your company in many ways:

Learning new technologies will keep your employees on the cutting edge. And eventually, it will benefit your company, as you’ll have more experienced employees for the projects to come.

Side projects, on the other hand, can end up as certain features or tools you might want to further develop, either for internal use or to sell to new customers.

There are many popular products, like Gmail or Instagram, which initially were simply side projects, only to eventually turn into tools used by millions of users, generating solid revenue stream for the company.

The benefits of hackathons are mainly learning new skills and, both technical and soft-ones like teamwork. They also give your team a sense of accomplishment, inspiration, fun, and being a part of coding community.

There’s just one important rule:

You have to treat the R&D project as the regular ones and let your developers finish what they’ve started.

First, you will avoid unfinished projects. Secondly, context switching might also be dangerous for developers, causing more lost time or project delays for the company.

Resource management is key

To achieve all of this and not make people unhappy, you should consider implementing resource management in your organisation.

It helps to find a balance between overtime and employee underutilization.

Resource scheduling tools can help to monitor the time your employees spend on a given task, as well as to track their bookings in other projects, and therefore better plan their time.

And when you do this, you can not only save lots of time and money you otherwise lose in lack of productivity.

You can identify underutilized employees, give them new tasks, assign R&D projects or the side ones.

Eventually, my friend would stop wasting his time playing Xbox in the office all day.

Do you have similar experience? Share it in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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