Worker productivity in the UK is continuing to decline. This has been going on for the last decade or so since the financial crisis. There are many reasons for this and plenty of theories about how to reverse the trend. But why does it matter?
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines Productivity as “the rate at which a company or country makes goods, usually judged in connection with the number of people and the amount of materials necessary to produce the goods”.
It matters, according to the BBC, because it is the main driver of long-term economic growth and higher living standards.
You may think that this is for the Government or the large companies to worry about. It is not an area where smaller companies can have much impact. This article will give you some tips about how you can make a difference in your own company and why that is so important.
What can any one employer do to increase productivity?
- Recognition. This does not need to be a large and involved recognition and benefits scheme. When business talks about recognition, it often means salary levels and all of the benefits which can be given to employees to retain their loyalty. Of course, we all hope that our efforts will not go unnoticed and we like to be recognised. Each Person, a company specialising in employee recognition, conducted an employee survey recently. Almost half (48%) of employees surveyed said that a simple “thank you” would make them feel valued.
- Respect. This one is a two-way street. If you show respect to your employees, then they are more likely to respect you. Nobody says that people have to like each other to be able to work together. But mutual respect is important and a professional approach is always the best one.
- Integrity. If your recognition is not genuine, then it will have the wrong effect. If it is too casual or generic it will demoralise workers. People can see through falsity and non-genuine approaches. So if you find it difficult to empathise with someone, then you may need to consider some personal development in the softer skills for yourself.
Who should we include in any recognition?
- Include everyone. When you set up a formal recognition and reward scheme, or even if you are just giving out informal thanks to employees, then make sure that these schemes and informal approaches cover every employee. I have worked in companies which give out certificates of thanks, together with some kind of small monetary gift. This is great when you are on the receiving end. But what if you never are? If someone is never or rarely recognised, when others get singled out regularly, then it will lead to resentment. It may result in a feeling of unfairness and will ultimately end in employees becoming demotivated. This can lead to other problems with sickness, retention, poor employer reputation – even legal action.
- Encourage peer to peer recognition. It can be really powerful to receive recognition from a colleague, rather than from the top down. I know of a global company which encourages its employees to give unattributed small gifts to each other on Valentine’s Day (and at other times of year as well). So an employee comes to their desk to find a mug with some chocolates in it and a thank you note. They don’t know who it is from, but their task then is to reciprocate by giving some kind of thank you to another colleague in secret. Now this kind of approach is unlikely to work in every company and I am not suggesting that you should implement this. But we all like to be appreciated by our co-workers and so it would be a good idea to encourage people to thank each other for noteworthy efforts. This could be an email, a phone call, or a sticky note attached to a computer or telephone.
Things to avoid if you want to increase productivity
A “one-size-fits-all” approach to reward and recognition is a recipe for disaster in modern diverse and varied workplaces. Individual members of staff will prefer to be rewarded differently. Reward schemes are as varied as the people in the workplace. Alcohol is never a good reward – many do not even allow alcohol into the workplace and so to give it as a reward seems rather perverse. With such diversity in our workplaces, we need to move away from rewards which people from some cultures or religions may find offensive. Even if not offensive, they are potentially just a waste of money.
Many current reward schemes include points or vouchers to allow discounts in high street or online retailers. Even this may not be an acceptable reward for some. Such schemes may only have participation from the most popular retailers and not everyone uses those retailers. Some workers may prefer time off as a reward, or additional flexibility.
The timing of rewards is another potential area for pitfalls. It is better if the recognition can be given at a time appropriate to the work undertaken, rather than on a regular occasion. Otherwise it becomes more of a ritual and less of a genuine appreciation. If there is too long a gap between the work and the reward, then people might feel that the recognition is only paying lip service.
Other potential barriers to increasing productivity
Many workplaces allow and encourage remote working, home working, variable or irregular working hours. Any reward scheme must be designed to include reward for anybody who is working to non-standard working patterns.
Another potential issue is the public nature of any recognition. You may feel it is something to be covered in team meetings or in a public area. This would appear to bring the greatest benefit as it should encourage people to make greater efforts so they can also achieve recognition. However, you must be aware that not everyone will feel comfortable at the public scrutiny. Any potential benefits to retention or productivity might be lost if someone feels embarrassed or singled-out in front of colleagues. It is important to show some empathy when dealing with any kind of people issues – good or bad.
One final point to remember is that any recognition scheme – formal or informal – must be operated fairly. There must be no room for anyone to feel they have been treated unfairly. If there is any such feeling, then any good from the recognition scheme risks being wiped out.
The productivity levels in the UK are continuing to fall or at least to stagnate. We are falling behind competitors in other countries. This will have a detrimental effect on our ability to compete. This, in turn, will lead to lower salary increases and less growth. On an individual company level, if you have low productivity you risk a high staff turnover. This leads to costly and difficult recruitment. The staff you retain are likely to be sick more often and to perform at a lower level. This will have a direct effect on profits and growth and may affect client relationships.
One simple way you can begin to turn this around and increase productivity is to set up a formal or informal recognition scheme. That way your employees are rewarded for their efforts and feel valued, included and part of your company’s success.
If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information on dealing with this – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.
Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR . She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.