Musings from the CU Suite

May 03, 2012

When can more be less?

Written by Anthony Demangone

We Americans are a productive lot.  Very productive.  According to this chart (, we're the second most productive nation in the world. Second only to the mighty Luxembourgers. 

But gets better.

Not only are we productive, but Americans use (or get) less vacation time when compared to other countries. This study puts us at the bottom of the pile. 

So let's do the math.  Work hard + paltry vacation = potential burn out. That shouldn't shock anyone. Burn out and work-related stress are common themes in management books, blogs, and magazines. Based on my conversations with other executives and managers, I'd bet that many of you see burn out as a problem within your credit union.

A recent article from, makes the case for sticking to a 40-hour workweek. The article makes a strong case that the average worker has roughly 8 hours of good work a day.  Beyond that, quality of work drops off.  And "thought workers?"  (Accountants, writers, attorneys, etc.)  They have six good hours a day on average.  The author has an agenda, so take that into account as you read.  The studies and data, however, are thought-provoking.  

So, back to the title of this posting. When can more be less?  When does getting a bit more work out of your team actually backfire? For example...

A call-center representative processes a change of address request.  They forget, however, to update the credit card address which is on a different system.  The card is then denied, as the member enters his or her new address online.  The angry member calls, and now someone has to research the issue.  A day later, the address is updated.  At some level, the member's view of your credit union has dimmed.  

How do you measure the cost of that interaction? Was that error due to understaffing, poor training, or because the employee stayed up too late watching a Big Bang Theory marathon?

I've argued in the past that additional investments in compliance might actually benefit the credit union in the long run due to increased capabilities, efficiencies, and output.   My theory is this: You can have one compliance officer work 80 hours, or 2 compliance officers work 40 hours each week.  Which scenario produces more utility?

That simple equation is there to make a point.  At some point, asking the same person or group of persons for "more" just won't work.  At some point you'll need to adjust your expectations, improve their resources and tools, or increase the FTE count.  (Or some combination.)

But it still begs the question...when?

So, faithful readers, I humbly ask for your help.  Just when is asking for more going to get you less?