We need to change how we think about productivity

Chris McCullough, CEO & Co-Founder


In theory, there’s nothing wrong with the term. But employers and businesses feel uncomfortable about using it. The problem? 

The term productivity is tainted by negative connotations that hint at hard work, squeezed employees, and an obsessive — even reckless — focus on yield. There’s a misconception. Productivity by definition is a measure of output per unit of input. Expressed mathematically: 

Employee input ∝ business output

According to this logic, low employee input would lead to low business output. On the other hand, to increase output, work staff harder. Correct?

No.

A workforce can work hard and produce very little. A workforce can also work at less than full capacity, but produce a lot. Believing, or assuming, that employee effort directly relates to business output is a problem. Firstly, it places direct responsibility for business performance on individual employees. That’s top-down blame culture at its best, and it’s not fair. What’s more, there’s no notion of relativity. According to the above, more work means more yield. Simple.

And that’s not the case. It’s not so simple. We need to step back and reassess what productivity really means, rather than what the term has come to mean in any work-related context. In doing so, we’ll be able to reassess how to improve it.

Now that we understand that output is relative, let’s look at input. And it comes down to quality, not quantity.

Hours worked by an employee say nothing about productivity. How do you know this employee is invested? How do you know they’re not distracted? How do you know this employee is able to use time effectively? The truth is, you won’t always. But what you can do, and need to do, is ensure that you’ve done everything possible to guarantee that your teams are in the best position possible to do a great job. And that comes down to two things: engagement and processes.

 

rawpixel-653764-unsplash-124091-edited

 

Engagement

Engaged employees are more productive. They’re more focused, more invested, and definitely more likely to go beyond the bare minimum required. Although this has generally become common knowledge, there still seems to be some confusion about what engagement is. Employee engagement does not equal employee happiness.

Happiness is achieved when you create a great workplace. A place where people want to go. Businesses have invested in amazing perks: free lunch, massage chairs, office pets, etc, etc, etc. And that’s great.

However: engagement is what you get when you create great jobs. It’s what happens when you understand that every employee is unique and, for that reason, needs a unique job to thrive. Challenge your employees — as individuals — and reward them as such, too. Create jobs that will give back to an employee as much as they will give to the business. Not only will that increase direct productivity, but it’ll also lead to retention.

Processes

At best, your engaged employees will be blocked by inefficiencies in day to day operations. At worst, your inefficiencies will disengage your employees.

Inefficient processes are estimated to be the primary source of wasted hours. It’s one thing to create amazing jobs and engage employees — but you need to create the environment and workflows that’ll enable employees to push their great work forward in a smooth and undisturbed manner. As far as efficiency goes, tech is key — it can help enable communication, centralise knowledge, inform actions through data, and consider multiple factors when generating solutions. Jira is a great example of software that enables transparent and efficient workflows and project management, as is Slack for company community and communication. At Rotageek we create interactive and intelligent schedules for shift workers, enabling communication and employee empowerment.

The "New" Productivity

Considering the above, it’s time to think of productivity not as something that is directly correlated to effort, but rather as a result of employee engagement combined with operational efficiency. We need to shift our focus from quantity of output to quality of input. In doing so, output will become a byproduct of productivity. Improving productivity has very little to do with increasing workload and effort. It’s about empowerment and facilitation. Businesses should aim to create platforms where great work is enabled before it is expected.