33. Office Robots
Following on from the theme of Office Culture and the influence this can have on how nice we are to each other… this week I started thinking about the actual role we do all day, every day…
Now, I realise that lately it's been a very easy thing to take shots at the Inland Revenue, but this article from The Guardian a couple of months ago is a real eye-opener.
It's all about a ‘Lean’ production program for processing Inland Revenue Tax Return forms (yes the same ones in all of the billboards with the huge ‘31st January’ message). With the help of some expensive Management Consultants the Inland Revenue had streamlined the process by dividing up the staff and getting each employee to focus on a specific tiny part of each tax return form production line style in repetitive fashion.
Congratulations all round on that one. They saved lots of cash (enough to pay the consultants anyway) and apparently reduced the processing time from 5 weeks to 5 days.
One small problem though… tax fraud figures have now gone through the roof, at least partly because no one was overseeing the whole claim – so the ability to detect fraud patterns was lost.
Apart from all of that, it sounds like it must have been a really boring job. I wonder how the Inland Revenue employees all felt?
Stepping out of the 'office' as such, the following story is another example of excessive top-down control having undesirable consequences...
I spoke to a friend recently in the British Transport Police, who told me of how he and his colleagues felt about ‘erosion of discretion’. Put simply this means that politically motivated targets are overshadowing community-led work because the BTP have to hit arrest targets (i.e. anti-social behaviour, or staff assaults etc) instead of exercising common sense.
He told me an example of a French tourist who, whilst being mugged, managed to spray a can of pepper spray at her two assailants. A member of the railway staff came over to help and unfortunately got pepper-sprayed in the process. (Yes, pepper spray is illegal in the UK… and no, we don’t know if the woman knew that or not).
When the BTP came to sort it out, the good news is that they managed to get the two muggers. The bad news is that they also arrested the victim, whose only real crime was defending herself against physical attack.
BTP Staff Assaults Arrest Target: 1
Common Sense: 0
By Liz Akers and Peter Muriuki