Frankenstein Equivalents

frankensteinI was speaking with a friend about a recent downsizing at his church. After nine years, a popular priest had been reassigned to another parish. In an apparent effort to cut costs, a new priest would now split his time between two parishes in neighboring towns. When I expressed some regret about Father S’s departure, my friend replied, “It’s not so bad. If you look at total staffing, the number of FTE’s hasn’t changed much.”

For the uninitiated, FTE’s or Full Time Equivalents, is a ratio between the total number of paid hours during a period and the number of working hours in that period. The ratio units are FTE units or equivalent employees working full-time. In other words, one FTE is equivalent to one employee working full-time – sort of.

For example, having one priest, presumably with more assignments, commuting between two parishes did not seem “equivalent” to me, but I kept that thought to myself. My friend, a doctor at a nearby hospital knows all about FTE’s. It’s a codeword in healthcare used to describe head chopping in the name of cost reduction. It’s a convenient way to dice up people’s work and then, like Dr. Frankenstein, sew them back together as if they were a whole.

frankenstein2In healthcare, the priest is replaced with a doctor who literally runs between campuses, or a nurse who covers two floors simultaneously. At the front door of a business, the receptionist is gradually loaded with new tasks until there is no time left to greet visitors. Or maybe the receptionist is chopped altogether, and that work is sewn onto another job somewhere in the office to create an FTE. Now there is only a phone and phone list in the lobby. On paper these may look like improvements but, in real life, who benefits? Saving lives, saving souls, saving customers – they all require whole persons, not pieces stitched together as FTE’s.

How about in your organization? Are you employing real persons or Frankenstein Equivalents?   Share a story.


Don’t forget: Our next Tea Time with Toast Guy Webinar will be on Tuesday, August 12 from 3:00 – 3:45 p.m.   The topic is “Creating a Realistic Pace for Improvement”. Read more and register here. Bonus!  We’ll select one person from the list of participants to win a free registration to our October 1-2 Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference. Learn more about the conference here.

2 thoughts on “Frankenstein Equivalents

  1. Dan Fleming

    Bruce, thought provoking as usual. When I work in Healthcare, I reference FTE in the context of “What’s the likely hood that you’ll get another FTE (person I thought) if you feel you need one.” Nearly everyone raises their eyebrows while nodding. They know the answer. Today, in healthcare (and in manufacturing) we need to make best use of the resources we have and not simply add as we’ve done in the past. As a result, we’ve learned that we need to justify new resources and Lean can help. A healthcare colleague recently told me that she loves VSM because it helped her justify 2 new positions. In the future, I’ll refrain from using the FTE acronym to avoid a painful reminder of this cost cutting approach for those of us that have been impacted by it. I suspect it’s all of us.
    Thank you!

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