Counting the cost

I got married and started a family relatively young, so that by the time I turned thirty, I had three kids, a mortgage, and drove a station wagon (that we later traded in for a minivan.) Even with all that, throughout my twenties I dreamt of packing up the kids and moving overseas, or going back and finishing college (which I ended up doing much later), or living on a houseboat, or all kinds of adventures. The world was mine for the taking. When I turned thirty, I felt like I was finally truly an adult, and I had a moment of epiphany when I realized that, while I could do anything, I couldn’t do everything. This realization opened up my world, and helped me to start counting the opportunity cost of everything I did.

You know what opportunity cost is – the things you won’t be able to do or buy once you commit your time and money to something else. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I consider applying to run for a position on my local DC SHRM board. I want to do it, but what will I have to say no to in order to find the time? I want to be clear eyed about my commitments.

In HR, we need to do the same. We spend time planning new initiatives, getting line items added to the budget, getting buy in from senior management. We look at ROI and show how valuable the new project will be. Maybe we want to set up a new internship program. It will create a pipeline for entry level employment and cut down on turnover and recruiting costs! It will improve our brand, and give back to our industry! All good things, but it will also pull our own time and attention away from other worthy projects.

I wonder, sometimes, if we look at the opportunity cost of our own time enough in HR. If we want to throw out annual reviews and coach managers to provide more frequent feedback, how much time will that mean for us? What other good work will be put off by moving on this initiative? Have we factored the opportunity cost of our own time for this project into our ROI?

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t take on big projects and initiatives – we need to do the big work to move our organizations forward. But, just like my personal time commitment to my local SHRM chapter, we need to know what things won’t get done when we take these projects on. Our time as HR professionals is valuable to our organizations. The work we do is vital to maintaining an engaged and productive workforce. We need to recognize the worth of our time and attention, and make sure we are choosing initiatives that will give our organizations the most bang, not just for the buck we spend, but for the time, energy, and attention we give.

One thought on “Counting the cost

  1. You also need to factor in time to research whether a New Thing may save time but create problems rather than enhance productivity. I work in HR, and the Quality Analysts went all out a while back: they thought up ways to grade people down faster in reviews. After enough employees spoke up to protest being treated like kindergarteners, the initiative ended.


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