When are IT pros going to stop sabotaging worker productivity?

For years, I’ve heard employees in my productivity seminars complaining about their IT departments.  Some of these complaints I believe have valid justifications, and I stick up for IT:

COMPLAINT: IT won’t let them load personal software.

JUSTIFIED! Doing so would create a staffing nightmare as workers seek help on non-supported applications.  Could also create security concerns and open the door to system viruses.

COMPLAINT: IT restricts access to certain Internet sites

JUSTIFIED! I can’t think of a good reason why employees would need to watch X-rated videos at work.

COMPLAINT: IT doesn’t upgrade their operating systems and software to the newest version for years after the release.

JUSTIFIED! You don’t need new technology for the sake of new technology.  There must be a cost-benefit analysis to determine if the new features will boost performance and productivity, commensure to the level of staff support IT is able to provide.

BUT many of the things IT does are ridiculous and I just don’t understand.  For example:

COMPLAINT: IT has removed my desktop printer, and I have to walk down the hall to the printer.

NOT JUSTIFIED! This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard of in a while.  Holy cow, I print continually.  Even electronic/PDA/Blackberry types still have piles of paper all over their desks.  It’s crazy to think about how much people make per hour times the number of employees in an organization, all walking down the hall to the shared printer, where of course they’re likely to stumble into Chatty Suzy, who wants to tell you about her nightcrawlers.  You get to the printer—CRAP!—it didn’t print out, someone took it, it’s not what I thought, margins are cut off, etc., BACK to the office to print again.  I don’t care squat about how hard it is to service all those printers.  Get a contractor to handle it.  Printers are cheap.  The cost of not having a printer on the desk top of every employee is a huge productivity and profitability drain.

COMPLAINT: My company won’t purchase a Blackberry/Treo/Smartphone for me to use. 

NOT JUSTIFIED: I know most people would be far more productive if they had instant access to their email, calendar, and contacts from anywhere.  I feel so sorry for people who are forced to print out their Outlook info, schlep it home, write on it manually, carry it back to work, and update it again, just to keep things organized.  Employees tend to stay connected at home if they have a device.  I tell people who complain about their companies not buying them a Blackberry to suck it up and buy one themselves!  But then at http://www.itbusiness.ca/it/client/en/home/News.asp?id=39533&cid=5 a consortium of CIOs actually came up with some "best practices" for managing PDAs. They suggest "Don’t allow the connection of privately owned PDAs to your corporate network. There will also be an issue with having proper back-ups and generally adhering to standards."  So you’re actually suggesting that people who dip into their own pockets to buy a device to aid their productivity and increase the profitability of the organization shouldn’t be allowed to do so?  Hello IT!!  Why don’t you get with all the managers and mandate they buy people one who want one, so people don’t have to connect with a privately-owned device?  You are out of touch with the business reality of what many workers are dealing with.

COMPLAINT: I’m not allowed to load personal information on my Outlook.

NOT JUSTIFIED!  People don’t simply turn off their private lives when they walk through your doors, and they don’t stop thinking about work at home, either.  You can’t have it both ways!  Do you actually expect for them to maintain two completely unrelated systems, rending their time management ability totally useless?  If your system doesn’t incorporate both your personal and professional lives, you are setting yourself up for conflicts and inefficiencies, which will ultimately affect a worker’s performance on the job.  This artcicle suggests IT should "Establish clear policies on PDA use, targeting items such as business versus personal use, playing games, downloading inappropriate material or using it to share family pictures."  Get a clue!!!  Do you think people are robots?  That they’re going to come to work and not think about their families again?  Socializing and water cooler chat are important for relationship building and is not simply a waste of time.  Connecting with co-workers on a personal level builds trust and comraderie that’s essential in building the support you need to get things done quickly.

COMPLAINT: My company makes me carry a Blackberry to check my email, but they said the phone service is too expensive, so I have to use a different cell phone, and I’m still required to wear my pager for emergencies?

JUSTIFICATION: None necessary, you can figure this one out on your own the first time you see some poor sap with three different devices strapped to his/her waist.




  1. Brian Kelley says:

    Here are the justifications for items you’ve marked not justified.

    COMPLAINT: IT has removed my desktop printer, and I have to walk down the hall to the printer.

    When you look at toner/ink costs for individual desktop printers versus workgroup printers, this is a no-brainer from a company’s perspective. Also, many folks print things when it’s convenient that they wouldn’t print if they have to walk down the row. That’s a lot of cost savings for a company in those areas. Also, keep in mind that often the workgroup printers are needed for times when a lot of pages have to be printed. So you’re also looking at additional equipment assets that must be acquired and managed by a corporation.

    And like software applications, printers require management at an individual level. There is an increased IT cost to support desktop printers from handling the print drivers (especially in environments that use Citrix) to just basic support like swapping out print cartridges and clearing paper jams. While a lot of users can handle these things, you’d be surprised at how many don’t.

    COMPLAINT: My company won’t purchase a Blackberry/Treo/Smartphone for me to use.

    There are security concerns with each of these devices. If you lose one of these devices, all of the information that you had stored on it is potentially in the hands of someone malicious. While many of them have the ability to send a “poison pill” which clears the device once the loss is discovered, the problem is getting employees to report the loss right away (after all, they just lost company equipment). Also, some of the devices allow for the transmitter/receiver to be turned off, thereby preventing that poison pill from being received.

    Ultimately business has to do a risk assessment. If your increased productivity due to having access to such devices outweighs the security risk if you should lose the device, then it makes sense to issue the device. But what if it isn’t? Not everyone needs such a device. And as far as allowing personal assets, which the company doesn’t own, to connect to company systems? That’s never a good idea. If you did something that was a fireable offense and your personal device has company confidential information on it, think about the difficulty a company would have to go through to try and seize it and clear that information.

    COMPLAINT: I’m not allowed to load personal information on my Outlook.

    If you were to watch the non-business related email that comes through company mail systems, you would see that it can be extremely servere. For instance, 20 MB attachments of a child’s wrestling team competition, media files > 25 MB a day, etc. all of which have to be handled by the mail system, stored in the mail system, backed up, etc. Processing those large attachments slows up processing of business critical emails because most folks don’t know how to set the priority flag on emails and there’s no guarantee that a given email system is going to honor it. From a business perspective do you want an email you need for a multi-million dollar deal being delayed with an attachment sealing the deal as hundreds of personal emails with large file attachments are undergoing virus scans in a queue, preventing you from getting that email in a timely manner?

    COMPLAINT: My company makes me carry a Blackberry to check my email, but they said the phone service is too expensive, so I have to use a different cell phone, and I’m still required to wear my pager for emergencies?

    Many cell phone carriers do free calling between users of that carrier, something companies try to take advantage of. Companies can reduce cost by only getting a limited number of minutes and taking advantage of these deals. Also, companies will tend to issue more cell phones than Blackberries. The company may have secured better pricing on phones and calling plans because it has greater leverage due to the # of personnel. If the company gets a $5 break per phone per month, that may not seem like a lot. But take it to a 1,000 employees, even, and that’s $60,000 a year. Over five years you’re at $300,000. And that’s not even including any price breaks on phones.

  2. Laura Stack says:

    Thanks, Brian, for your detailed and thoughtful responses! I’m just wondering with a $60,000 a year savings for a company of 1,000 employees, how much a key employee making $100K a year is suffering in lost productivity. That’s my exact point. IT people figure out the cost savings in forcing people to do things like carry three devices and DON’T consider the balanced view of the productivity loss, which is undoubtedly far greater. Yes, you save toner/ink/printer expenses by not giving people a local printer, but it is definitely not a no-brainer in overall savings. How much money is being lost for a single employee who has to walk down the hall several times a day. I’d say the cost would be recovered fairly easily in lost productivity. Not allowing a printer also assumes that people manage paper and time the same. A person should have the ability to request and receive a printer if their organization style is still heavily paper based. Similarly, an employee should be able to request the use of a private Blackberry, if one won’t be purchased for him/her. I have no problem with the policy being the employee must agree to the security policies and let IT configure it. Then it can be wiped out remotely should any breech occur. IT talks out of both sides of their mouths. The company won’t buy you the necessary tools to improve your productivity, but no, you can’t use yours even if you buy it. You can’t put your personal photos on your devices or send personal email, sorry, you’ll have to do that on your own private devices. Oh but did I mention you can’t use a private device here? People don’t turn off and on their lives like that, and it creates a productivity drain much greater than the piddly money saved. The big bucks are in the value of the output per hour per worker. What if a big $2M deal was delayed an additional two months because of this silliness?

  3. Brian Kelley says:

    Remember, though, that in most organizations, a few IT people support a far larger population proportionally. As a result, IT has to take into consider efficiencies from the viewpoint of the whole organization, not just the individual end user.

    Keep in mind that when an IT person is tied up dealing with a driver issue for someone’s workstation, that IT person is not putting out whatever other fires are going on… fires that also may be keeping a 100k a year employee from working. For instance, while I’m working on your deskjet printer that refuses to work, the CFO’s Blackberry suddenly goes on the fritz. While I can and will most likely be re-assigned to deal with the Blackberry issue, I’m now having to leave the deskjet in an unworking state, you’re disgruntled because you still can’t print, the CFO is disgruntled because it takes so long for an IT person to respond to the Blackberry issue… you get the idea. This type of situation happens in many IT shops and therefore it makes sense for the IT shop to try and streamline support. Yes, your individual productivity is hurt because you’ve got to walk down to pick up your printed document, but because you don’t have a deskjet printer on your desk, I was available to go assist the CFO immediately. It’s all about resource allocation and making the appropriate trade-offs. And let’s look at the end result. In the mini-scenario I gave, the deskjet printer caused 3 people to be less productive. With the workgroup printer, only 1 is less productive (the Blackberry problem is going to happen regardless, so it’s a wash as far as the CFO’s lack of productivity because of the Blackberry issue).

    As far as getting the Blackberry is concerned, remember the security issue. Security risk management is a business decision, not an IT decision. Yes, IT makes the business side aware of the risk, but IT shouldn’t be the one making the decision here. Business personnel should be. And if it is deemed too much risk to give you a Blackberry versus the trade-off on your enhanced performance, it doesn’t matter if the company or the individual owns the Blackberry, the risk is still there. You don’t get rid of it by simply switching who owns the device.

  4. Jason Scott says:


    You say that only one person is affected, instead of three. But during the 80% of the time when the C?O is just fine, EVERY user is still walking down the hall to pick up their documents…further, probably waiting there for a while as the previous person’s documents finish. Fires aside, this productivity loss occurs day in, day out, as long as workgroup printers are the paradigm.

    Just my 2 cents.