The Brutal Truth of the Cost of Non-Productive Labor

The Brutal Truth of the Cost of Non-Productive Labor

by John Kennedy

One day, I stopped by a job site of a landscape client of mine. The two crew members were sitting on the client’s patio furniture taking a break (Bad Start!). One was smoking (he quickly tried to hide his poor judgement). I sat at the table with them and asked to have some" fun with numbers" (a hint of sarcasm floated over the wrought iron table…)


How many crew members smoke? They answered, “about half.”
How long does it take to smoke a cigarette? They answered, “about five minutes”
How many breaks a day do they take to smoke a cigarette? They answered, “about five”
How many minutes a day do half of the crew (roughly 20) take to smoke? They answered, “about 25 minutes”
Then I said, “Get out your cell phone that you use way too often while working and punch in some numbers."
"Take 20 crew members and multiple it by 25 minutes a day"—500 minutes a day.
"Take 500 minutes and multiple it by 5 days a week”—2500 minutes.
“Take 2500 minutes and multiple it by 50 weeks a year"—125,000 minutes
“Now divide that by 60 (the number of minutes in an hour”—2083 hours a year the owner pays half the crew to smoke.
“Multiple it by the average hourly wage of a crew member—2083 times $18/hour—$37,494 a year to pay for employees to smoke.

My point, which was surprisingly well-taken, was every hour of non-productive, non-revenue generating work adds up…one minute at a time…and when you have 40-50 people working, it adds up fast.

Be fair and flexible with your labor…just don’t be too fair or too flexible…it’s costly!

Especially during the dog days of summer. Having a list of daily tasks that must be done (your MASTER LIST) and a daily list of tasks that should be done (your MANAGE LIST) posted on your WIP Board (Work in Progress) is a great way to keep your employees focused on the tactical day-to-day tasks. Have them initial that they are taking ownership of that task.

At the end of the week, feel free to “shout out” the employees who stepped up and took initiative to stay “focused”…not just “busy.”

There is also the “PLUS ONE!” List…add one more thing to your day to ensure we are always looking ahead…and not just down or backwards

“Plus One” is a list of unfinished work that requires attention and once again, feel free to ask for folks to step up and initial it as well.

“Plus One” award goes to Maggie for consistently going above and beyond…with a “shout out” and a gift card for sure!!

You will quickly see who is stepping up and who is stepping back. And when the time comes to cut hours as the season slows, it becomes an easier choice based on the employees who have stepped up! It’s not favoritism…it’s fairness!

These are just a few thoughts I wanted to share as we move toward “Raising the Bar” on employee engagement and productivity.  Remind me in Wilmington to tell the story of my Mom’s chili when we were kids…it’s a good one!!!!

A final thought about the opening of this true story.

Imagine if I was a homeowner that had come home for lunch to see the company I hired to install landscaping smoking while sitting on my furniture. (I’d have an issue with this and I am certain you would too!). After the employees left, I would have walked the entire job site looking for one very specific item—a cigarette butt.  But while walking the site, I would have also been looking for any other reason to support my belief that the team was careless, unprofessional, not focused on details…and guess what…I would have found them.

This is a concept we will be discussing at the Fall Event called Confirmation Bias. I am searching for things to confirm the bias I already have. And once I find those items on my “punch list” for the landscaper to come and fix, I am now considered “a difficult customer.”  All because of the bias I reached based on seeing an employee smoke in my yard…unfair bias??

I think not!

See you in Delaware!


Want to discuss a Team-Building opportunity with John Kennedy? Call or email him!

John Kennedy
[email protected]
Cell: ‭443-605-7095

REMEMBER: Your interaction (by phone and email) with Group Service Providers such as John Kennedy, Robert Hendrickson, Steve Bailey, Sid Raisch and Jean Seawright, are included in your retainer!

John Kennedy is a speaker, author and strategist and resides in Northern Virginia with his wife Souny.  John is a Service Provider to The Garden Center Group focusing on strategic planning, accelerating sales teams, and creating a customer service culture.

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