5 ways to solve the productivity puzzle

Hannah Sims · 24 May

The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) most recent labour productivity figures revealed that UK workers’ productivity has improved per hour by 1.2%, compared to the same time last year.

According to the report, output per hour increased in Q4 2016 at its fastest rate for over a year. However, although on the surface this is positive news, the ONS said: ”The data provides little sign of an end of the UK’s ‘productivity puzzle’”

The productivity puzzle

Britain’s workers still remain far less productive than their competitors in Germany, France and the United States, although they aren’t alone. France works 25% fewer hours than Britain yet its output per head remains nearly the same.

The ONS report found that companies in urban areas tend to be more productive, such as those in London and across the south east. The number of working hours per week also varies in the different areas and impacts productivity. Londoners spend the most time with 33 hours per week at work followed by those in Northern Ireland at approximately 32 hours. Those in the south west work the fewest with 29.9 per week.


The solution

Although reducing hours may seem like the solution, it will be the cultural shift that will take longer to achieve. It’s important for businesses to set key metrics to measure productivity and then take it from there.

Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane warned that the UK only has a small number of highly productive organisations in each region – often the ones at the cutting edge of their sectors. Yet many are still far less productive and therefore struggling. But how do we tackle this? Other than shortened hours, there are ways in which employers can improve productivity in a non-tangible way.

  • Manage work: Ensuring employees have a sufficient amount so they’re not sitting there twiddling their thumbs is important but it’s also just as important to not give them so much that it becomes unachievable.
  • Encourage wellbeing: Have team yoga evenings or give employees an extra 30 minutes at lunchtime to go for a run – anything that will help improve the wellness of an employee because this is the key to a productive workforce.
  • Flexible working: Having flexi-hours means employees are able to work at hours where they are at their optimum productivity levels. This works for them and works for the business too rather than having hours where they are in the office but inactive.

Yet, in order to remove the productivity puzzle, there are some steps organisations need to take which lean towards the metrics and ways to measure and optimize productivity. Five ways to do this are:

1. Define productivity:

First begin by understanding the definition of productivity and communicating that back to the workforce. This provides employees with the knowledge to implement or develop their productivity levels.

2. Monitor:

Provide employees with objectives and monitor performance and progress. Additionally, reward and recognition is just as important in order for individuals to understand and take on feedback.

3. Remove bottlenecks:

Allow communication channels to be clear and make it simple for employees to easily relay problems that have occurred. Identify the source of the problem and remove any bottlenecks immediately.

4. Encourage change:

Listen to employees’ ideas and take them on board. By doing so, you’ll create a diverse workforce where everyone has an input but also one where great things will happen.

5. Environment:

Create a focus zone where there is a place for everyone. Somewhere for employees to escape – away from their desk and chair. Location plays a key role in how productive a workforce are so be sure to create one that supports this.

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