Taking Out Your Own Office Trash: A Savings Concept That Needs to be Dumped

I was going to save this idea to post as a Friday Rant but I can't wait four more days. As "Corporate America is on track to post its healthiest profit margins in more than three years in the current third-quarter earnings season" as the WSJ proclaimed on its front page today, we also know that a portion of these profits result from direct actionable savings derived from cutbacks and layoffs over the past two years. As often times happens, saving initiatives begin legitimately but then degenerate to the absurd. Witness a recent trend among government, non-profits and for-profit companies to have staff, at all levels, remove their own office trash to reduce custodial man hours, positions and expense.

Another piece in today's Journal touts such benefits as the Texas Facilities Commission "having workers dump their own can ... to save at least $825,000 annually on labor costs -- a tiny piece of a the state's two-year budget of $182 billion." And also cites "Texas is spending about $195,000 to set up its program, for small individual bins, larger centralized bins, signs and brochures ...[and] a three-minute video to explain the program to workers." But it doesn't end there. "Linda Snyder, Dartmouth's vice president of Campus Planning and Facilities, says the "primary goals" of the initiative are to increase campus recycling and reduce waste." The article goes on to give examples of how companies like "Brewer Science Inc., a Rolla, Mo., company that makes materials for the semiconductor industry, began having some employees empty their own trash and recycling in early 2003 -- and has since expanded that practice to all of its 17 locations world-wide, including offices in Europe and Asia."

The primary reason that organizations maintain housekeeping staff is to insure that facilities remain reasonably healthy and clean. The people who perform these tasks are among the least skilled among our populations and also need to earn a living. If tasks such as dumping one's own trash are completely decentralized, there's a darned good chance that a great number of people will simply not comply. And if organizations off-load this task to employees, why not also have them disinfect common surfaces, vacuum and mop the floor around their desks? The answer is simple: The job will not get done.

Furthermore, the entire idea is disingenuous from the standpoint of work design. Since other daily office cleaning procedures -- as mentioned above -- are also required, how in the world can emptying small trash receptacles at a work station while performing other custodial chores constitute anything close to significant savings? Isn't more sensible to insure that a needed sanitary job gets done and preclude having to possibly reprimand a buyer for not emptying their can?

William Busch

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