United Kingdom Joint Services Command and Staff College
The proposition that work expands to fill the time made available for its completion. The idea was first set out formally by the British social theorist and political scientist, C. Northcote Parkinson, in his book Parkinson's Law, published in 1957. Like a number of popular studies, its main function is to suggest that the more severe theorists of management practice ought not to take themselves too seriously.
Parkinson was what used to be called an Admiralty civil servant: a British official seconded to the Royal Navy. It was during an investigation of work practices in the British Naval Service that he became impressed by the phenomenon expressed in the principle that was ever after to bear his name. Regardless of management structure or an incentive- or reward-based system, individuals seemed to make their own choices as to how fast a job could be completed. The work would be completed on time—the "time" being defined as the moment when adverse effects would be visited upon the employee for late delivery. As interesting is Parkinson's analysis of how employees respond to repeated difficulties in meeting deadlines. In effect, Parkinson argues that employees conspire against their employers by increasing the size of the hierarchy, aggrandizing their own position in the process, at the expense of those who pay them. He tended to assume that supervisors tended to conspire against the employer; that employees (acting individually or in concert) would injure themselves to the point where the paymaster is brought to the brink of bankruptcy; that less spent on wages will maximize profits. While challenging, none of these are self-evidently true.