A third of the workday wasted

Are your employees doing the right job for their role?

A new study of 71 hospitals shows that more than a third of employees’ time is spent doing wasteful work — from filling out multiple forms for the same task to searching for misplaced supplies or records. Completed by the Murphy Leadership Institute, a healthcare consulting firm based in Washington, DC, the study analyzed the operations of 71 hospitals over the last year using a proprietary operational assessment called Right Work/Right Role — a survey-based tool that assesses areas of operational waste, the design of job roles, and the efficiency of work processes.

"In an era where patient safety is paramount, staffing shortages abound, and operating margins are hard fought, every minute a hospital employee is forced to spend on wasteful work is a misuse of very scarce employee time," says Mark Murphy, CEO of the firm and author of the report. "It represents time not spent with patients, wasted labor dollars, and diminishing employee commitment."

According to the study, the top 10 most wasteful activities among respondents were (in alphabetical order):

  • Completing multiple forms for the same task
  • Inefficient shift-to-shift or departmental reports
  • Interruptions by telephone calls
  • Locating equipment
  • Medications unavailable or delayed
  • Meetings that last too long
  • Searching for or correcting a misplaced record
  • Unnecessary or redundant communication
  • Waiting for physicians
  • Waiting for something from another department

Wasteful work is negatively correlated with hospital operating margins, employee perceptions of quality, and employee commitment. As time spent on wasteful work increases, the hospital’s operating margin will decrease, the percentage of employees who believe that the quality of care delivered to patients is excellent will decrease, and the percentage of employees who will recommend that organization as a good place to work will decrease. For instance, inefficient shift-to-shift or department reports correlates to more overtime dollars for nurses, the report notes.

"Wasteful work is inherently frustrating and demoralizing," says Murphy. "So in a time of intense staffing shortages, it seems quite shortsighted to spend significant dollars recruiting staff into a frustrating and demoralizing situation that they’ll just end up quitting a few months later."

There is good news, however. Lose the wasteful work, says Murphy in the report, and you reduce burnout. "This study is very clear: If you want employees to view your organization as a good place to work, eliminate the wasteful work." Indeed, a statistical model Murphy developed found that as wasteful work is eliminated, operating margin, perceptions of quality, and employee commitment all increase. Specifically, this analysis finds the following:

  • Every percentage of wasteful work that gets eliminated leads to an operating margin increase of .25 points. For example, a hospital that reduces its percentage of time spent on wasteful work by 10% will likely experience an operating margin boost of 2.5 percentage points.
  • Every percentage point of wasteful work that gets eliminated leads to a similar increase in employee ratings of the organization’s quality of care.
  • Every percentage of wasteful work that gets eliminated leads to and equals an increase in employee ratings of the organization as a good place to work.

With crisis-level staffing shortages, poor financial prospects, and increasing concerns about patient safety, hospitals simply cannot afford the ill effects of wasteful work. Murphy notes, "Wasteful work seems to have a major impact on hospitals’ financial prospects, the quality of care they deliver, and even on retaining staff and alleviating shortages." However, he adds, "These findings are quite hopeful. Hospitals really can achieve financial success without cultural distress. Hospitals that identify and eliminate wasteful work can leapfrog their competitors by increasing their capital base through improved margins, alleviating staffing shortages by becoming a more attractive employer, and delivering higher quality. And that’s good for hospitals, their employees, and the health of their communities."