Billable Hours Are So Last Century Billable hou…


Billable Hours Are So Last Century

Billable hours force employees to abide by a strict time code, have their time managed by a central authority, be told what is the “most efficient” method of doing something, and have their work broken down into smaller, less discretionary tasks.

Interactive agencies seem to want creative employees be accountable, but at the same time, to control them. This is a mixture of two theories of management.

1. “Responsible Autonomy” Model of Management
Managers trust their employees to be a good judge of what is important and what must be done in a timely manner. The benefits of responsible autonomy are that employees tap their own creativity to come up with meaningful and useful solutions to everyday work problems. They self-organize and complete tasks as they see fit. The drawback of responsible autonomy is that managers lose day-to-day control over work and even working time.


2. “Taylorism” or “Scientific Management”

Managers control every element of employees’ work time. They break down complex tasks into their constitutive parts, and only allow employees to complete each individual part, with little discretion. The benefit of scientific management is that workers can be trained to be highly efficient and waste little time. However, workers’ creativity is never utilized.

The Agency Model “Responsible Taylorism”?
Billable hours have made agencies embraced responsible autonomy, on the one hand, and reject it on the other hand.
Billable hours is the heart of the problem because each hour an employee works needs to be tracked in detail. This is the heart of Taylorism. But interactive agencies require employees to be responsible for their own work, to bring their creativity to bear on day-to-day problems, and in general, be held accountable for an account’s success.

Billable hours force employees to abide by a strict time code, have their time managed by a central authority, be told what is the “most efficient” method of doing something, and have their work broken down into smaller, less discretionary tasks.
The net result is that the employee is required to have all of the responsibility of the model, but none of the autonomy. The company/employee bargain is supposed to be autonomy at work in exchange for responsibility for results. This exchange has broken down.
This disconnect is manifest in several ways:

• Resistance to times of work: employees reject the time-keeping aspect of management by flouting hours of work, complaining about firmly established hours of work, calling in sick, and taking personal time. Overtime is deeply resented and perceived to be pervasive. 


• Lack of accountability: employees who feel the bargain of “responsibility for autonomy” is not being honoured are likely to reject responsibility. This will result in a loss of forward thinking, rejecting ownership of results, failure to be proactive on accounts, and an increased need for leadership to guide and support.

• Alienation: employees who are denied the ability to drive the creative process are alienated from their own work. They are unhappy with the product of their work, they lack pride in their work and fulfillment. Alienation leads to poor work execution, depression, company conflict, and lack of employee engagement.

• Negative Word-of-Mouth: complaints are like cockroaches: for every one you see, there are hundred more that you don’t. If complaints are not voiced internally, they will be voiced externally.

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4 responses to “Billable Hours Are So Last Century Billable hou…

  1. It’s interesting to read it broken down so thoroughly.

    In my limited experiences working in an agency, I’ve noticed both methods are used, seniority being the deciding factor. However, even in a senior position you are faced with being left to manage time yourself and being micro-managed.

    It can almost feel like you’re being rewarded or punished based on the level of work in the past, when the reality of the situation is the lack consistency in management and processes.

  2. It’s interesting to read it broken down so thoroughly.

    In my limited experiences working in an agency, I’ve noticed both methods are used, seniority being the deciding factor. However, even in a senior position you are faced with being left to manage time yourself and being micro-managed.

    It can almost feel like you’re being rewarded or punished based on the level of work in the past, when the reality of the situation is the lack consistency in management and processes.

  3. Hi Sam,

    I work at the agency that you just left. But on the other business unit.

    My biggest issue is alienation. There’s a serious lack of employee interactivity. For my first three weeks, I sat in seclusion. No one asked me out for coffee or lunch. I made a few attempts at making connections, but was met with indifference.

    After months of working there, I met others who had shared similar experiences. This of course, results in detachment and lack of interest in the work itself, miscommunication among teams, and in the end, the work suffers.

  4. Hi Sam,

    I work at the agency that you just left. But on the other business unit.

    My biggest issue is alienation. There’s a serious lack of employee interactivity. For my first three weeks, I sat in seclusion. No one asked me out for coffee or lunch. I made a few attempts at making connections, but was met with indifference.

    After months of working there, I met others who had shared similar experiences. This of course, results in detachment and lack of interest in the work itself, miscommunication among teams, and in the end, the work suffers.

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