Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Hidden Cost of Long Hours

The chairman of the California stem cell agency, Robert Klein, likes to point out that the tiny staff at the $3 billion enterprise works long hours to deliver the goods for its directors and the hundreds of researchers and others who enjoy the state largess.

In December, CIRM President Alan Trounson provided a few specifics. He told CIRM directors that some CIRM employees were at work until 11 p.m. He added,
"This morning, it was two in the morning, they were still responding to e-mails from me, so you have to say there's something very special about this group of people."
What Klein and top CIRM management do not mention is the hidden cost of the midnight oil.

What this kind of pace means is that people put off taking legitimate vacations and rack up uncompensated time off, which must be paid for at some point. According to its own annual audit, CIRM owes $370,067 to its employees for “unused compensated leave.” That includes vacations that have not been taken, “annual leave” and compensatory time off for those long hours. Already the agency has paid out $203,022 between 2006 and 2008 to 22 departing employees, according to state figures compiled by California Watch.

(The non-profit newsgathering organization put together the figures for a story by Chase Davis that was carried in some California newspapers today. He reported the state has paid out an estimated $100 million to departing state employees over about 3.5 years, ignoring rules that bar the workers from amassing such huge benefits.)

The CIRM staff, which now numbers in the mid-40s, indeed deserves considerable praise for its diligence. But the reasons for the long hours and resultant stressed staff – not to mention costs down the road – are not so deserving of praise. One can begin with Prop. 71, which is a 10,000-word tribute to micro-management, and immutable micro-management at that. Written by Klein and several other people, it imposed the 50-employee cap that is now deemed by Trounson and others to be endangering the quality of the work at the organization. CIRM wants the cap removed, but that will require an unlikely feat – agreement of 70 percent of both houses of the legislature and the governor. CIRM's top leadership also recently indicated that it would oppose the only legislation to eliminate the cap.

Big run-ups in unused time off also reflect an organization's inability to perform routine tasks routinely. When the staff's energy is often consumed by last minute and late hour scurrying-about, it leaves little room to deal with genuine emergencies or allow time for thoughtful analysis. In the case of CIRM, where careful thinking should be valued, it has prevented its science officers and others from staying in the forefront of the stem cell field through attendance at key scientific conferences. CIRM has declared the importance of such efforts and has budgeted generously for them. But much of the funding remains unused.

Some CIRM directors also have worried publicly about staff burn-out. The fact that 22 former employees are on the list of those receiving time-off payments may be evidence for that concern, given that the staff size has probably averaged somewhere in the 30s for the past five years. One can only wonder why more persons were not hired early on. But hiring itself is a time-consuming process, one that CIRM's top executives may have found difficulty in finding time for.

Hard work and diligence should be recognized. CIRM should also recognize that it cannot and should not rely on its employees to give up regular vacations and time off to burn the stem cell candle at both ends. Sphere: Related Content

No comments:

Post a Comment