Why Only HR Managers Feel Busy: An Economic Theory

The Atlantic had an interesting article recently (Why Only Yuppies Feel Busy: An Economic Theory) based on a study by an economic professor at the University of Texas. The basis of the study was this:

It turns out that if you hold the hours people spend at their jobs and on household chores constant, individuals who bring home bigger paychecks still feel more stressed for time. Increase a husband’s income, and his wife begins to feel busier.”

This got me to thinking! About HR. About how crazy we HR/Talent Pros act sometimes in corporate settings.

Busy vs. strategic

More from the article:

We all live on two things: time and money. And people who have extra income don’t get much, if any, extra time to spend it. As a result, (researcher Daniel) Hamermesh argues, each of their hours seems more valuable, and they feel the clock ticking away more acutely. Much the way it’s more stressful to order dinner from a menu with 100 items than 10, choosing between a night at the symphony, seats at the hot new play, or tickets to Woody Allen’s latest flick is in some senses more stressful than knowing you’ll have to save money by staying in for the evening. There’s a lot the rich could be doing and too few hours to do it all.

That isn’t to say the rich are necessarily more stressed overall. While the poor are less likely to complain about a lack of time, they are much more likely to complain about a lack of money. “One of them is always going to be scarce for you. If you’re rich, it’s time that’s scarce. If you’re poor, it’s the money that’s scarce,” Hamermesh says.”

Let’s put this into an HR example. HR Pros want to feel important and strategic. They see their operational partners running around with real important stuff that needs to get done – new product launches, assembly changeovers, new marketing campaigns, etc.

Become the “right” kind of busy

Because they are so busy, we (HR) equate busy with strategic. So, we become busy and we run around stressed with too much to do. I mean, the processes aren’t going to re-process themselves! So we add – for the sake, many times, of adding – and we equate busy with strategic (importance to the organization). I mean, hell, if we are this busy, how would the organization ever live without us?

Corporations are funny; if you survey your organization about who is the busiest (doing the most stuff), it would always look like everyone is always busy. In reality, your senior leaders would say they are the busiest, and then they would go down by levels from highest to lowest on the busiest meter.

If you brought in a third party and had them force rank who was busiest, you would find something different.

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The lowest levels of your organization are actually the busiest (leaders are trained to delegate, delegation rolls downhill, and it has to stop eventually!), and as you move up, you get less “busy” and more strategic – probably more boring meetings, because there’s a lot of wasted time at higher levels of leadership. Ask any senior leader and they will tell you probably half of their time is wasted in meetings where no decisions are being made, and mostly, they are just “updating” or “getting updates.”

HR managers feel busier because they are trying to show their business partners that they also have real important stuff to do – so they add.

Is there a better way? Stop adding HR stuff, and start using that time to help your business partners on their stuff. You will be amazed at how much time you have when their stuff becomes your No. 1 priority. You’ll still probably feel busy – but it will be the right kind of busy!

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.