How Many Work Hours Per Year Does An Employee Deliver?

How Many Work Hours Per Year Does An Employee Deliver? It’s an important question, but one to which too few managers know the answer.

With modern automation methods it’s possible to capture some really good information about the effort involved in delivering services within a team, and to compile a comprehensive catalogue of services (a Service Catalogue) showing effort, frequency etc. With this done management can, with rapidly increasing accuracy, predict the number of man-hours required every year to support any system, and from this we should logically be able to accurately predict the number of staff required in the team to support it.

So far, so good. Amazingly though, in some organisations, it’s also where the problems really begin because we now need to understand how many hours of productive work an employee delivers each year…

The year itself comprises 260 (52×5) potential working days, from which (say) 8 days must be deducted for typical sick leave pattern, 7 for bank holidays, and a further 28 for planned annual leave. The actual working days obtained from a typical employee each year can thus considered to be 217.

When I once sought the opinion of a project manager (who should have a reasonable handle on actual work planned/delivered) about his thoughts on the proportion of a working day that a typical company technical employee spends on “productive work”, and that which is “overhead”, he appeared well informed. His opinion was that of the standard (in his company) 7 hour working day, 5 hours are used for “productive work” and 2 hours for “overhead” (meetings, official announcements, rah-rah, cascades, sundry reading, performance management, 1-1s, other non-core work, toilet breaks, shouting about football(!), dealing with personal stuff etc.). 5 hours worked out of 7 is 71.4% productivity. Assuming 5 “productive work” hours on each of those worked days then, a typical technical employee will thus deliver 1,085 (217×5) hours of work each year.

However, a senior manager within the same company suggested using a figure of 80% productivity, which means 5.6 hours of productive core work will be derived from a 7 hours working day. It may not seem like a huge difference, but this slightly different estimate brings the annual total of productive working hours up to 1,215; this is an increase of 130 productive working hours/year, which will take more than a month for an employee to deliver at a little over 25 productive hours/week.

So while the difference between 71.4% and 80% may not seem huge, as may not the 0.6 hour/day it represents, it’s also the difference between whether a team requires 10 people at 1,085 hours/year (10,850 hours annual total) or 9 people at 1,215 hours/year (10,935 hours annual total) to deliver a predicted 10,900 hours of service (see the Service Catalogue I mentioned in the first paragraph). That is also the difference between a team running comfortably with some spare capacity for unplanned work, and one that is already planned to be overstretched by about 10% (despite having a higher headcount) leaving little or no spare capacity, staff with a degraded work:life balance, and with a predictable overtime bill that would potentially exceed the cost of another employee.

I struggle to believe that any large organisation doesn’t have some pretty accurate figures for this derived from its various resource-planning and time-tracking systems, so my advice is to get a clear handle on how many hours of “real productive core work” you can budget on receiving from an employee every year and compare this with your service catalogue aspirations.

And consider too that in addition to often working longer hours than employees, contractors don’t need to be involved in the vast majority of the overhead activities that employees are either, so can easily deliver more hours of productive work each month. Bear this in mind when planning and/or budgeting and you just may be able to hit your milestones better, as well as having happier employees and more chance of staying within budget.

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