Attrition: Why Optimal Manning Wasn't


January 14, 2011: The U.S. Navy is cancelling its decade-long experiment in "optimal manning." This was a policy meant to cross-train sailors, reorganize work on a ship and introduce some automation in order to reduce crew size up to 20 percent. Early experiments seemed to work. But optimal manning was less successful when it was tried on more ships. The long term impact was very damaging to morale and ship readiness. What happened was that, as many little emergencies showed up, especially on long voyages, sailors were pulled away from their duties, especially ship maintenance. The maintenance deficits were often never made up, and ship systems began to fail. In particular, they began to fail the periodic readiness inspections. This eventually caught the attention of senior leadership. Investigations followed, and it was concluded that to solve the maintenance problems, the crews needed to be larger. This was a big boost to morale, as sailors were unhappy with all the extra work, and the frustration of that effort not being enough to prevent their ships from slipping into disrepair.



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