The Productivity Puzzle: encouraging a workforce that works

By Rebecca Mossman, HR Director EMEA & APAC at HireRight

Solving the productivity puzzle is fast becoming a key strategic priority for UK business leaders if they are to keep up with their international counterparts. According to the ONS, Britain produces 30% less per hour than workers in Germany and France. This means that it takes British workers five days to do what our German counterparts do in four.

As a result, earlier this month George Osborne unveiled a productivity plan in his summer budget in a clear statement of concern over the quality of the nation’s growth. While he did address some important issues such as inefficient infrastructure, lack of technology investment and the skills gap, these broad external factors are out of the control of individual business leaders.

While government policy will play a key role, poor management accounts for a quarter of the productivity disparity between the UK and other parts of Europe. The actions of managers and their organisations decisively influence the realisation of global productivity potential. To close the gap on Germany and France, UK firms need to start tackling the problem directly.

Get engaged

Recent research by The Marcus Buckingham Company found that a mere 14% of UK employees were fully engaged. This means that the vast majority of UK workers are not dedicated to the purpose of their company, confident in the support of their colleagues, or excited by their company’s future. This lack of engagement can be damaging to business productivity, but is an issue that can be addressed by adapting management style.

No two employees are the same. Each individual has a unique set of skills and capabilities, and giving employees the chance to work to their strengths will vastly improve engagement levels. Allowing staff autonomy in specialist areas of expertise gives them the chance to stretch themselves, keep them motivated and keen to continue producing great work.

Set targets

An engaged workforce is just one part of the picture for productivity, and without a clear focus on the end goals for an organisation, employees will struggle to understand what output is anticipated of them. Setting clear targets for expectations and what employees should achieve provides a framework for the business to work within and a means to measure productivity. Mapping out employees’ progression along their career paths can give them the clarity of purpose needed to work efficiently.

However, as well as a clear sense of purpose, employees need to know how they are performing in relation to the targets set. Regular feedback and performance assessments can inform staff of whether there are aspects of their work that need to improve, rather than letting bad habits set in. This also lets high-performing employees know that their work is appreciated and valued by the company.

Recruiting for culture

A productive and engaged workforce with clear targets can be a tricky transformation if businesses fail to recruit the right people in the first place. Recruitment processes need to be as transparent as possible to ensure that the company’s culture is effectively conveyed to potential candidates. For example, if someone is not used to working in a fast-paced environment, they may not be the right fit for a role that requires urgency and quick thinking. Getting the right people into each job role is vital to enable a boost in productivity, so it’s essential that employers fully research their job candidates.

Fearing change can leave many businesses frozen by inaction. One of the biggest killers of productivity is stagnation, and this usually comes from the top down. Having people at the top of a business with a wealth of knowledge and experience can be an invaluable resource; but it can equally be a sticking point for growth and change. In order to remain productive, businesses need to be constantly evolving, and sometimes an injection of fresh perspective is exactly what is needed.

Organisations must embrace our current era of speed, react quickly to market changes and seek out opportunities to propel the business forward. Reducing wasted time and effort is important at every level of an organisation, whether this is during recruitment, business development or in day-to-day operations.

Boosting productivity in UK businesses has never been so important, with other countries leading the way despite unpredictable global markets. While there are contributing external factors to consider, companies can help address productivity issues, through workforce engagement, creating an efficiency culture and setting clear targets for all employees. Only then will the UK be on the right track to solving the puzzle of the nation’s flat-lining productivity.

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