Admins who don’t admin

A reader sends me a job advert. Look at the bottom:

Simply apply through seek today with your CV. Once we have reviewed your details we will ask you to apply online through our Johnson Controls job portal. You will then be contacted by the Branch Manager as appropriate for an interview. Good Luck!

So if HR like the look of you, you can do their admin work by putting all your details into their database. Presumably they’re too busy to do it themselves, what with all that diversity coordination and training Kiwi fire protection specialists require.

You see this with a lot of what are laughably called “support functions” in companies: they exist mainly to deal with administration but write their procedures in such a way the admin burden is put back on the workforce. I’ve worked in a company where the travel department – made up of 20+ people – made each worker get quotes from three different travel agencies and complete a ream of forms which they would then review and possibly approve. When I worked in a smaller company you’d email the travel girl with some basic details and any preferences and she’d do the rest. I also worked in a company where the contracts department made the engineers write the entire contract, after which they’d staple the general terms and conditions to the back of it. I worked in another place where every year my career manager would ask for my CV, which she already had but she wanted it in “the new format”.

People talk about AI robots replacing HR and other admin functions, but from what I can tell that won’t be necessary. If it’s replacing existing brain power, a reprogrammed food processor would suffice.

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23 thoughts on “Admins who don’t admin

  1. Universities are like this too. In recent years they’ve spent stupendous amounts of money on enormous numbers of extra administrative and bureaucratic staff who are supposedly there to help the academics, but the academics still end up doing the work these people were supposed to do, plus extra work they never had to do before because of what the new bureaucracy demands.

  2. I see that the job to check that every building has a fire system is located in Nelson, that place is going mental, maybe they are anticipating a higher than usual number of applicants?

    ……………………………………………………………………………………..

    Demand for residences in Nelson has never been as great as at the present time, according to statements by local firms engaged in the rental business. It was stated that practically every house in the city that is in good condition has been rented and that there was no sign of a diminution of the demand.

    “I have never seen anything like it in the past 10 years,” said one Nelson broker, “People seem to be coming to here from all over the country. Some are coming for the winter only, but many appear to be moving here as permanent residents.

    “For some time there has been difficulty in finding furnished houses for those who desired them, but the situation now is that very few unfurnished houses in good condition are available.”

    https://www.nelsonstar.com/opinion/column-nelson-in-1917-a-rental-crisis-and-alcohols-last-day/

  3. That portal thing is more and more normal and personally, I’m fine with it. I type it in, I know it’s going to be right rather than a transcription error with HR. Plus duplication of effort as I have to fill things in anyway.

    And ultimately, this annihilates all these jobs. They don’t realise it yet. But you get to a point where this happens. Someone writes a piece of software that automatically looks up room prices for them. Next, it automatically compares that with acceptable budgets. Next, it checks you’ve got good reasons. At what point is the machine presenting them a box saying “looks fine, click here”. At that point, what job do they have?

    And what then happens is stuff gets decentralised. It’s so cheap and effortless to validate, you might as well just have a step where your immediate boss approve it.

  4. I have had – people give an envelope of receipts to the secretary on return from a trip. Then I have had offices of people making 200k+ having to spend a chunk of their day inputting their receipts one at a time into some clunky online system.

    I have no idea how organisations think that is a good way to run things.

  5. Except for lawyers and doctors, having admins do the scut work while the professionals do the real work went out of fashion a long time ago. Too hierarchical, I expect. And there are occasionally things that are more efficient yourself (I book 90% of my own travel and claim it back rather than let the company admin do it).

    But I think having more admin staff to genuinely support the professionals, not to sit around and ingore automated forms that are processed by a computer, will help us to put off the day when we hit The Process Event Horizon™.

  6. As has been constantly commented on vast swathes of ‘jobs’ are pointless, in that they create no wealth. No one would suffer if they disappeared. If they were all told to f*ck off and don’t come back tomorrow the real work of keeping people fed, warm, housed, clothed, transported etc etc would continue regardless. It all really is a make work scheme for all the people who have been made redundant by increased automation of manufacturing and the like.

  7. The company I work for has largely automated admin, to the point where your boss’s boss just has to approve it. Unfortunately that guy has about 50 indirect reports, so he spends a good hour each day going through emails that say “click here to approve Charlie Contractor’s timesheet, click here to approve Salesman Sam’s expenses, click here to approve Secretary Sue’s request for access to the electronic filing system”. I doubt he pays close attention to the requests; I’ve certainly never had anything rejected yet.

    Off-topic, but here’s a tale that confirms your priors. I’ve recently been visiting local schools (state, non-selective) in the aim of choosing one for my children. At one school, the headmistress boasted about the CPD (Continuous Professional Development) opportunities for staff, the wonderful SLT (Senior Leadership Team), and peppered her talk with lots of corporate education jargon. They had interactive TVs in every classroom and iPads for teachers to record progress. I asked her directly about the school’s academic results: they were not good.

    At a different school, the headmaster talked mostly about the children and the parents; needless to say, their educational outcomes were excellent.

  8. My favourite example of redundant admin tasks is from when I used to teach in a Further Education college. Every new academic year I would turn up not knowing the students I would be teaching, the syllabuses, the awarding bodies, my timetable, and the rooms I would be teaching in. These things would be gradually drip-fed to me by my line manager. Fair enough, my manager was responding to student demand and changes imposed from above. But then, some time in the first term, I had to fill in umpteen forms with all that information, and hand them to my line manager.

  9. I always thought those ‘job application’ sites that required you to spend several hours typing in the details of your life in the employer’s particular format were specifically designed to weed out anyone who wasn’t really really enthusiastic about the job. A category that always for some reason included me.

  10. @Jim
    “As has been constantly commented on vast swathes of ‘jobs’ are pointless, in that they create no wealth. No one would suffer if they disappeared. If they were all told to f*ck off and don’t come back tomorrow the real work of keeping people fed, warm, housed, clothed, transported etc etc would continue regardless. It all really is a make work scheme for all the people who have been made redundant by increased automation of manufacturing and the like.”

    At first glance, it does indeed look like it. But that would imply an intentional strategy to achieve this. And as much fucked-up companies are, it’s hard to believe they’ve been spending vast amounts of money creating non-jobs to give the unemployable something to do. It’d be interesting to hear some views on how this situation has come about by, presumably, some form of natural accretion. I believe Northcote Parkinson had something to say on the mechanisms.
    Of course, there is something amuses. From reading comments, think it would be a fair assumption that many of the people doing so are paper pushers of one sort or another. Although no doubt you believe your paper pushing is valuable & indispensable. Except the paper pushers you’re complaining about no doubt also believe their paper pushing in valuable & indispensable.
    It is a conundrum.

  11. “…they exist mainly to deal with administration but write their procedures in such a way the admin burden is put back on the workforce.”

    I’m told by pals who work in the civil service that – for the bigger departments, DWP, Home Office and HMRC – that’s exactly what they have done too. The burden now falls to managers. Leaving them even less time to manage!

  12. “At first glance, it does indeed look like it. But that would imply an intentional strategy to achieve this. And as much fucked-up companies are, it’s hard to believe they’ve been spending vast amounts of money creating non-jobs to give the unemployable something to do. It’d be interesting to hear some views on how this situation has come about by, presumably, some form of natural accretion.”

    Its simple – government creates regulations that require paperwork and licencing etc, and companies are able to afford it due to the increases in productivity, if not necessarily in their own organisation then that of others feeding into the general level of demand in the economy. Slowly over time the unproductive element grows, sucking the value out of the productive side. Governments see their regulations ‘working’ ie they don’t cause everyone to go bust so introduce more. As long as they limit the regulatory cost to no more than the general productivity increase in the economy everything is ok (ish) although productive workers lose out because they see a lesser increase in wages than they should, because its all going not only in taxes but also to fund unproductive workers. As soon as the productivity level flattens out and governments continue to introduce more regs thats when real damage to economies (and wealth) are done – rather as now everyone feels constrained because there’s no productivity increase to fund the ever increasing bureaucracy sector. If you sacked all the paperwork pushers, got rid of forests of regulation the economy would burst into life and wages would start to rise again.

  13. @Jim, @BiS
    ” make work scheme for all the people who have been made redundant by increased automation of manufacturing and the like”

    I don’t think it is quite that. The non-jobs are not manual, there is still plenty of work for plumbers etc… These make-work jobs tend to be in comfortable offices, they let the middle classes feel important and, because having lots of underlings implies status, makes the superior middle classes who create them feel even more important.

  14. @djc: its not the same people. The workers no longer needed (say) to make cars or their components (because the process has been so mechanised) are not going to end up as HR office workers. They’ll end up in dead end low paid jobs jobs while middle class graduates get nice office jobs pushing paper around. Its a long term process thats been decades in the making.

    Its one of the reasons why society is so fractured at the moment – the middle classes have captured the productivity increase of the working classes for themselves, by creating office jobs with degree requirements etc, leaving those at the bottom to fight amongst themselves for the scraps of minimum wage jobs, as the well paid factory type jobs no longer exist.

  15. It all really is a make work scheme for all the people who have been made redundant by increased automation of manufacturing and the like.

    And the 50% of the population now going to ‘university’. They aren’t going to want to work in a factory or on a building site.

  16. @Jim
    government creates regulations that require paperwork and licencing etc, and companies are able to afford it

    I’d say large companies can afford it. Smaller ones amalgamate, or go out of business. As regulations get more onerous, the economy gets pushed towards monopolies. And then the only companies left are the ones that don’t mind regulation. The first step on the road to serfdom.

  17. Hector Drummond, Vile Novelist – I’ll second that.

    Related: people are always talking about the bright shiny future where computers do all the work (some in this very comment section). But what they fail to take into account is that 100% of computer programs are complete pieces of shit.

    None of them work like they’re supposed to, and the problems multiply exponentially as you increase the number of programs that need to be working in sync. A slight irregularity will now cause the entire office to grind to a halt while a succession of “team leaders” and IT goblins try to make the software do something its makers hadn’t prepared for. 30 years ago, someone would’ve affixed a handwritten note to the file and moved on.

    Andrew M – Indeed. And why is it always three-letter acronyms with these people?

    squawkbox – “…specifically designed to weed out anyone who wasn’t really really enthusiastic about the job.”

    Or anybody who wasn’t desperate, or who possessed a modicum of self-respect.

    I note that all gov’t jobs require you to jump through such hoops.

    bloke in spain – “…that would imply an intentional strategy to achieve this. And as much fucked-up companies are, it’s hard to believe… It’d be interesting to hear some views on how this situation has come about by, presumably, some form of natural accretion.”

    Steve Sailer sometimes mentions how he used to work in market research in the 80’s. His firm did a really comprehensive study on the effectiveness of advertising, and found that in most cases it wasn’t effective at all. “Good news”, says Steve to the client, “you can probably afford to cut your advertising budget in half.” But for some reason, the client – head of marketing at some big company – wasn’t interested in telling his superiors just how pointless his job was.

    It’s all just self-interest, multiplying outwards. It’s a miracle society functions as well as it does.

  18. “I’d say large companies can afford it. Smaller ones amalgamate, or go out of business.”

    Or become single person sole trader businesses that don’t employ anyone, because being an employer is the single biggest driver of pointless paperwork (and stress) for small businesses.

    I’ve often said that there should be two minimum wages, one as now with all the employment law regulation, and one far higher, double, possibly even more, where you get no employment protection at all. Effectively monetise all the value of the regulation and offer people the choice – £8/hr and employment law or £20/hr and none.

  19. Effectively monetise all the value of the regulation and offer people the choice – £8/hr and employment law or £20/hr and none.

    You’ve just described contracting.

  20. “You’ve just described contracting.”

    Yes but make it available to everyone. Bus drivers, shop workers, office workers, forklift drivers, anyone.

  21. If I’m providing information to a process that will benefit me in some way (or prevent the opposite), I’m very happy to use a self-service portal. I can confirm the accuracy of the data and reduce the risk of a frustrating error creeping in and making more work for me later.

    When those data entry screens are presented to people who don’t see the benefit or risk to themselves personally, however, be prepared for lots of rubbish. Like a procurement system I saw recently where nearly half of the items bought were in the category of “agricultural equipment”, ie the first option in the drop down menu.

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