Productivity gets personal

There was a recent news item that claimed that Britain wouldn’t move into growth unless employers could improve productivity. What has been happening is that the existing workforce are working longer hours (in their own time) and this isn’t making people more productive – it is giving bosses the pretext for not investing in capital improvements which would make their people more effective while they were at work. Cue more agonising over work hours exploitation and a zero hours culture.

My concern with this is that it is measuring the wrong sort of productivity – only that of economic productivity. There are 8 kinds of capital so productivity needs to be understood in wider terms.  See the graphic and the article it comes from.  Several of these kinds of capital are essential for the business owner. If your staff turnover is relentless high, the experience of your company is leaking out the door – you are losing intellectual capital unless you have made strenuous efforts to capture it. If companies which create knowledge capital (like research agencies and ad agencies) don’t catalogue it they lose it when their employees leave.  Productivity is about creating value using all the assets you have. And making stuff fast and charging for it is arguably one of the least profitable ways of doing it.

 

But I want to address the issue of trying to prop up productivity by working longer hours. Work has invaded every part of life. People answer emails in the middle of the night. Weekend work is usually unpaid.  Somebody had to explain what TIL meant to me the other day – not an acronym I come across often (it means Time in Lieu – does your employer offer you that?).  But work expanding outside of work hours just means there is less time to do the things you are supposed to be doing out of hours to make you a more successful human being not to mention a productive employee.

At its most basic you may not be getting enough sleep so you’re not working at your optimum when you do go to work.  But simple things like staying in to wait for the engineer to come and fix the washing machine, looking after children because it’s the holidays or the school staff have had yet another inset day (for which they bear no responsibility for looking after your children). Or looking after your elderly parents. Because the state doesn’t want to – and if you live hours of travel away that has to be fitted into the schedule as well. One of the core values in our society is doing it yourself or if you have the money paying somebody else to do it. And that is what we spend significant proportions of our lives doing.  And that is part of your productivity – how you measure your own.

There isn’t enough time. You know there isn’t. So home life invades the workplace. Going on holiday? I bet you booked it online at work.  You may not be at home to take delivery of a purchase on the internet but chances are you were at work when you booked it.  There were attempts in the early days of Facebook to ban social media platforms from computers at work (and I accept that not everyone has access to a computer at work) but along comes the smartphone to let you do all the same things – not a lot your boss can do about that – and its even more productive because its more difficult to serve ads onto a smartphone so at least you can’t be targeted as easily by advertisers!

Where am I going with this? Two suggestions. To plead with employers to monitor the productivity of their employees in other terms than the bottom line but in terms with how each employee perceives themselves as people to be productive. Including all the home stuff. They will be happier employees and you will get more out of them.

Secondly if you work in the marketing business to recognise that however you engage with customers that in all probability you are reducing their productivity in economic terms – you are interrupting them, not just their TV watching or reading but what they are being paid to do. You are a distraction which can either be annoying or a treat. Aim to be the second. But of course recognising that an alternative to being a distraction to your customers is being useful to them. If you can make them more productive  (in their terms – as human beings) the more they will reward you with their attention and their liking.  Productivity in economic terms isn’t going to increase any time soon. Go forth and distract! Or increase their productivity.

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