Do-It-Yourself Hands-On Experience versus Delegating

A Roman Catholic church at San Mateo, California had one parish priest who not only said the Masses but also cleaned the premises, drove the car to buy groceries & supplies, and pay the bills.  Volunteers would come to help on Sundays but the parish priest was practically on his own on weekdays.

Contrast this with a similarly sized parish in San Juan City, the Philippines.  The church has at least three (3) priests on site at any one time.  It has an office staff of three (3) employees as well as three (3) “contractors” (workers from an agency) who cleaned and maintained the church premises, and three (3) security guards who rotated on duty 24 hours a day.  Ask any of the three (3) parish priests if any of them can handle the church alone and they would probably say no. 

Head counts are quite low in organisations and small businesses in First World places like the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, and Europe, where the costs of wages and benefits are high in relation to total operating expenses. 

In less-developed countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, where the cost of labour is predominantly much lower, head counts in organisations are higher.  Organisations could afford to have more people on their payrolls. 

Factories in low-wage-cost countries tend to be more labour-intensive, that is, they employ more people rather than invest in automation.  The opposite is true in high-wage-cost nations where enterprises prefer to put in machines to minimise manual labour. 

From the late 1990’s to today, enterprises in the developed countries have outsourced much of their materials and services to those located where wage rates were low.  Apparel firms had their products made in Bangladesh, for example, where the low cost of labour more than offsets the cost to make the same items in America and Europe.  Service industries likewise locate their call centres and backroom operations in low-wage countries in Asia rather than in their home countries in Australia or America.  American automotive companies have invested in assembly plants in Mexico where wages are much lower than in the United States.  Head counts in any of these aforementioned operations can number up to the thousands. 

In nations with low-wage rates, high head counts are the norm.  Such as the parish church in the above example, organisations don’t hesitate to add people to their payrolls. Households hire domestic helpers to clean homes, cook meals, and take care of children and the elderly.  Enterprises employ workers not only to staff operations but also to do menial work like cleaning, guarding, and running errands. 

The opposite is true in high-wage nations.  Like the parish church in San Mateo, enterprises and households hesitate to hire workers, especially for menial jobs or regular maintenance.  Families would do the cooking, cleaning, and any home fixing by themselves.  One would hardly find security guards or more than one custodial worker working in an office.  Factories would opt to automate rather than employ workers for production. 

Even as some wealthier households or businesses engage contractors like part-time gardeners, housekeepers, and maintenance personnel, most people in homes and enterprises in high-wage places would opt to do things they can do themselves than hire and pay a worker full-time.

In low-wage societies, however, some families and organisations would not even consider a do-it-yourself option.  They would refuse to do the laundry, clean bathrooms, or do simple repair jobs.  For some, it would be beneath them to do so.  For many, it would just be more convenient for someone else to do the job.  This kind of thinking not only applies to the wealthier people but even also to low-income groups where it would be not surprising to find domestic servants working for families in poor neighbourhoods. 

People in both low-wage and high-wage countries would agree that productivity improvement comes with lower head counts.  Each, however, would have a different notion on how many people would be the ideal for their respective organisations. Enterprises would base their productivity performance by comparing themselves with the competition.  Households would look at their budgets or just see what their neighbours are doing.    

Lost in the discussion would be the impact of having people do work for us versus doing it ourselves. 

When we do things by ourselves, we become familiar with the tasks and details of the job.  We gain hands-on experience and this can be helpful for our careers, if not for future projects. 

On the other hand, when we engage other people to do work for us, we become more productive or have more time to do other things. 

There’s value in doing things by ourselves and there’s value in having other people do work for us.  It’s a matter of balance and what goals we are working on to achieve. 

For example, there are engineers I know who made ideas into realities via drafting their own drawings by hand, fabricating prototypes in machine shops, pouring the concrete together with construction workers into building foundations, putting together the circuits and testing them, and they themselves fixing the plumbing.  These engineers have become very well-versed in their professions.  As these engineers became older, they left more of the hands-on jobs to younger apprentices but their experience and familiarity made sure that the novices did their jobs right. 

And there are also engineers I know who have never touched or would even know one drafting pencil from the next.  Or who has never operated a lathe.  Or who doesn’t know how the cement should be mixed before it would be poured.  Or who has no idea how to seal a pipe leak.  They, from the instant they graduated from college, wholly relied on technicians and contractors do the work for them.  They may have been productive in getting projects done but there was insecurity whether the projects were accomplished rightly.   

Different cultures, places, and individuals have divergent views on how to do jobs.  Some people do things by themselves and gain valuable expertise, while others pay and delegate tasks to other people so they can be free to do other things. 

The price of hiring and employing people plays a big part in whether we do things by ourselves or we delegate someone to do it for us.  But we also should consider how much we want to gain in experience and how much we want to achieve before we really decide which path to take.  As much as we have limited budgets, how much we want to do in a given time will drive our decisions whether to go on our own or find people to do the work for us. 

There is always an advantage in hands-on experience and there will always be benefits in being more productive. 

About Ellery’s Essays

Published by Ellery

Since I started blogging in 2019, I've written personal insights about supply chains, operations management, & industrial engineering. I have also delved in topics that cover how we deal with people, property, and service providers. My mission is to boost productivity via offering solutions and ideas. If you like what I write or disagree with what I say, feel free to like, dislike, comment, or if you have a lengthy discourse, email me at ; I'm also on LinkedIn:

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