Service of Staffing

August 15th, 2011

Categories: Government, Staffing


MTA Sercurity

I was inspired to write today’s topic because of something that happened last week. As I arrived at the bus stop at 42nd Street and First Avenue at 6:30 pm, I saw four Metropolitan Transit Authority security staffers giving tickets to passengers who couldn’t prove they’d paid for their ride. On First and Second Avenues, to get on a Limited [express] bus, passengers must slip a MetroCard into a kiosk on the street before boarding and keep the ticket that comes out as proof. [I wrote about the system when it was new in Manhattan in “Service of Who Are We Fooling.”]

limited-busI heard the security people say that they’d given three summonses. Then they all walked across First to enter a large van [illegally double-parked]. A summons costs $100 according to an article in The New York Post about an outraged passenger who got a ticket because she didn’t understand the system. [I couldn’t find what the fee was by Googling key words and MTA.]

A ride costs $2.25. The MTA lost $6.75 but generated $300 because three people allegedly hadn’t paid for their rides. As excessive as the fine is, I can’t see how it will cover the cost of four salaries and a large van and I don’t know why 1) the security team needs a van; can’t they take busses to the stops? 2) It takes four people to do this at any time, but especially after rush hour.

A bus driver, seeing the security uniforms at an upcoming stop should open only the number of doors as security staff on the ground. [And there should be signs in huge red letters at each stop warning people about the fine. I don’t like the surreptitious nature of the punishment and underhanded method of generating income, although that’s not the subject of this post.]


waitressYears ago when we lived in another borough we’d go to an intimate Hungarian restaurant that had only one waitress. The prices were reasonable and the food hearty and tasty so the place was generally full. She served us all cheerfully and the wait for anything from more butter, bread or another beer was always short. She had the rhythm of her job and required focus and energy.


nursesI read nursing and hospital journals when I had a client in that industry. Staffing studies found that a hospital with too many nurses couldn’t rise to emergencies as the workers were used to a sluggish pace nor could those that were severely understaffed and already running at full speed. The staffing sweet spot was in between. No surprise.


federal-governmentI sat next to a very smart, articulate man on the train last week who had the kind of job where he could commute four hours+ daily so as to live in deep dish country. He was able to do it because he never had to work late or get in earlier than usual. I learned at the end of the ride that he worked for the Federal government. He also told me that while at work he did his job but that many colleagues didn’t. He suggested something that I’ve always suspected: Instead of Federal program cutbacks, we could eliminate a lot of expense by cleaning house.

There are people with graduate degrees in HR and I am sure that they conduct countless studies and read staffing formulas galore. In so many instances, staffing seems like common sense. Do you agree? Can you identify instances of over and understaffing?


12 Responses to “Service of Staffing”

  1. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    What you’re talking about is service, Jeannie, and that’s been disappearing regularly for many years. Every now and then I read that Macy’s is doing a million-dollar redo of the Cellar at its flagship store. I smile…because I can remember how many times I’ve wandered the aisles down there in search of some item I can’t find…and can’t find anyone who can help or direct me. Yes, there’s a cashier, but I know that person is too put-upon to offer any kind of service! So I wander.

    Macy’s would do well to skip the redesign work and just add a couple of knowledgeable staff people. I hesitate to call them salespersons, because when I venture down to the Cellar, I don’t need a sales pitch, I just need help in finding what I need.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your Macy’s example makes me sad. Reminds me of companies that think they can print another newsletter or brochure or set of instructions rather than hire people to counsel customers and answer questions. Mind you, I make a living by writing some of these materials, but they never can take the place of trained staff. And back to Macy’s, as you point out, a great looking place isn’t going to help the store sell much if people can’t find what they are looking for.

    In the case of the MTA in my example, the overstaffing results in service to the MTA by generating income, not to helping passengers. These security people aren’t there to make it safer or easier for passengers to travel, but to trip them up.

    The Federal buildings overstuffed with staff uninspired or unwilling to work does affect service. With sluggish staff weighing down the system, service suffers for sure.

  3. EAM Said:

    I think one of the perfect topics for this story is the Division of Motor Vehicles in NJ. Thanks to Gov. Christie, DMV’s have been downsized throughout the state. Even though they have closed several locations, they haven’t added staff to the existing ones. Therefore, you can expect to wait 1.5-2 hrs. standard to go thru the system. It’s already grueling enough to go through this process, once every 4 years, do we really need to add additional aggravation to it?

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Oh what a good example, EAM!

    Say the words “DMV” in any state and you’ll hear stories. I had to correct a glitch in NY caused by license plates supposedly sent me in the mail that never arrived. This called for a visit to the DMV. It was far enough back in time that smoking was allowed. As my turn came up to speak with the clerk, he said he was on break. He left his post, walked around the desk and smoked a cigarette in front of me.

    My point: Those with jobs in the remaining NJ DMV branches could step up and get moving. I bet they simply aren’t used to working hard. Were those jobs competitive, I bet you’d notice a slight uptick in waiting time, but not a significant one.

  5. WTP Said:

    Although I agree with you in principle about using common sense when it comes to planning staffing, I suggest that that this is a more complicated subject than it would first appear.

    My first job was as administrative officer of government office with 56 employees. It was grossly and obviously overstaffed, however, in defense of my predecessors, its workload had been somewhat heavier previously. As well, most of the work we did was routine, although complicated, clerical and boring. There was just so much enthusiasm for working harder and faster that one could hope to generate. With the blessing of the head of the office, in the days before government unions existed, we cut the staff from 56 to 34. (I believe we could have actually cut it to 16, and still done a good job.) The department we reported to in Washington howled. We were causing all sorts of problems, and would live to regret it, not just because it expected the quality or our performance to decline, but because of what we could expect to have happen to us personally.

    At first, I was outraged, but when I thought about it, I realized that the department administrators had a valid point. If Congress found out about what we were doing, it would expect the whole department to cut back similarly. Then, what if there was an election, and the opposition party came to power and dramatically increased the department’s workload? Would Congress approve and for how long and when, an increased budget to pay for the people who would have to be hired to do the job? Maybe. And if it did, where would such trained and experienced people be found? Nowhere. It would take at lease five years to put together an experienced staff like the one we had.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    That may be why you stopped the cut at 34 rather than at 16. And it is also why hiring consultants to do the work they are trained to do for the period of time necessary makes fiscal sense.

    What never made sense to me were the silly games companies and government officials play regarding budgets. Makes me weep the amount of money that is spent/wasted “just in case we need the staff.” Plus I can’t imagine how boring life must be in a job with little to do.

    What you describe is fact and has been for eons. I think, in the interest of getting out of this financial mess, it’s time to stop playing games, to base budgets on honest expectations and approve additional money when it’s needed.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    There are two ways of looking at over staffing. It’s easy to hit on government and large corporations (Con Ed is (or was) known to send four or more men to do the job of 2) but consider the consequences of laying off the sludge. You guessed it……greater unemployment!

    A personal experience is a case in point. As an office temp, I filled the spot of a vacationing staffer. By dragging feet, I completed in 2 1/2 hours what the regular employee would accomplish in a 7 1/2 hour day. Weeks after the end of assignment, I complained to a regular employee. He understood my dismay, but pointed out that by hiring such people, it left that many off welfare.

    Carry this one step further: Present drug laws. Drop the drug laws, and we are one step further to getting our personal freedoms back. Hurray!! But hold on: Consider the hundreds of thousands of prison guards, police, defence and prosecution lawyers no longer needed to attempt to enforce an unenforceable law. Now unemployment shoots through the roof. A solution anyone? Beats me!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I see your point about giving work to those who are not the brightest in the bunch.

    But sending out four to do the work of two, when I bet there are a lot of tasks left undone, makes no sense. For example, rather than for Con Ed to wait until something wears out, in a city as old as NY and as stressed by huge buildings and extensive use of wires, I’m sure that there could be prophylactic repairs and maintenance done by the extra two employees. By anticipating problems, repairs and interruptions will be less, service better. Put a few workers who may no longer be able to do strenuous physical work on the customer service phone lines. They will understand customer complaints and best translate to repairs what the problems are.

    As for work that unemployed prison guards might do….[I’m not worried about the lawyers….there is always a lot for them to do in our litigious society]… let them work in schools with an abundance of tough and truant kids to nip their inclinations at the start and set them straight.

    Security is something movie stars, sports figures and hedge fund managers need. And if we get the hooligan squads here that they have in the UK, buildings and businesses in cities will need the help of security as well.

    So there’s a start to the dilemma you identify.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    It’s fine to tell a corporation how to run properly, but it’s not listening. The heads of these entities are all too often former C students with prestigious contacts but little or no business sense other than personal greed.

    I would not want prison guards near my child. They are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, as a rule (that’s why they know little else than to keep people in cages) and are much more suited to deal with rioters, which fortunately are very few and far between in the States.

    It’s one thing to envision things a person may do to earn a decent living, another to create the means by which he can do so. Look at our bright new GOP contender for President, Texas Guv Perry, who claims his state creates huge percentages of jobs. Observe that he neglects to mention what kind of jobs, not to speak of their relation to a living wage.

    As to security for celebreties – just how many of them are there to be able to accomodate, let alone afford the flood of prospective employees? They might seem to be Gaga, but most are neither as successful nor as affluent as she!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Hundreds of sports figures, singers and actors, have the means to pay for security as do very wealthy people, many of whom still come to the US for visits, if they don’t already live here as Lady Gaga does.

    You are right about not putting those guards near children. But I fear you are not correct that we don’t have riots in this country. Why do Phila. and Chicago have curfews this summer? A bunch of marauding brats spoiled the Wisconsin State Fair by tossing their weight around, also this summer. We’ve not seen the last of this kind of behavior according to Peggy Noonan’s column in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, “Après le Déluge, What?”:

    In regard to riots, I hope you are right and I am overreacting.

  11. GmbDaly Said:

    I really enjoyed your article “Service of Staffing,” and can relate. I am concerned with the fact that the there appears to be way too many government jobs full of nothing. We are living in a world where people service is being replaced by self-doers via the internet — this trend is here to stay however, we will still require the services of hospital, restaurants, government public service and transportation although I see the latter potentially being replaced by computer technology — after all do we need 30 train operators to operate trains going back and forth on train tracks when a few computers and control center workers will do?

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I had this conversation when mentoring a woman who has had a very hard time getting a fulltime job. I encouraged her to veer towards teaching–one of her ideas–as we can’t export teaching jobs….at least in the immediate future. I dread a time when children and college students will communicate with their instructors by staring at a computer screen [or whatever exists at that time] using webinar style setups.

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