Marty Nemko
The Big Idea

If you’re saying ‘do more with less,’ it’s probably too late

“Do more with less” is the battle cry of the modern workplace, with bosses wielding swords of Damocles:

Do it or we’ll send all your jobs overseas.

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Do it or we’ll have to make cutbacks.

Do it or we’ll replace you with automation.

It’s easy to demonize such bosses as modern-day Simon Legrees but it’s not quite that simple.

Put yourself in a for-profit or non-profit manager’s shoes. In fatter times, you might have allowed your workforce to also get fat and perhaps even sloppy. In those more booming, less-global-competitive times, you could more easily survive.

Today’s landscape is different. Customers are more likely to be price-conscious and leave you for a competitor who prudently kept labor costs moderate, forcing you out of business and costing 100 percent of your employers to lose their jobs. If you find yourself running a fat and sloppy business today, “do more with less” is what you should have said a decade ago.

If, for example, GM had made that their mantra ten years earlier, the taxpayers might not have had to bail them out. We bought $49.5 billion in GM stock at $33 a share knowing we wouldn’t break even until it reached $53 per share. The stock has, as of the writing of this piece, since dropped to $23 per share.

If the major airlines hadn’t paid captains $300,000 to fly a plane, they mightn’t, like United and American Airlines, have gone bankrupt, and like Eastern, PanAm, TWA and Braniff, among others, gone out of business .

But fact is in many, if not most, workplaces workers are already working long and smart. There is a point at which the bottom line’s definition needs to be expanded to what John Elkington calls, “the triple bottom line”: profits, planet, and people. Otherwise, we’re in a race to the bottom of humanity, a “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They”-competition to see who will—to keep their job—work themselves until they collapse.

Here’s the big idea: Every boss should, in deciding whether to say, “Do more with less,” consider how it would affect the triple bottom line: profits, planet, and, yes, people.

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