Productivity: Are we being intentionally misled?

Whilst we’ve seen a slew of ‘productivity down’ coverage over the past weeks and months, few have actually examined if the productivity measure being used in this hand wringing is a valid barometer for work as is in our post pandemic world (are we using the wrong metrics, measuring the wrong things?).

Here we’ll open with Bruce Daisley asking, “What is productivity? By strict definition it is the amount of work performed by each unit of a person’s time (work per person hour), but it’s often taken to mean the amount of work people get done in their jobs.” He goes on to state, “This is an important distinction, if the average working day has been extended by out of hours emails, by rights this lengthening of the day should see a decline in productivity – as the same amount is produced in more time.”

Get the sense, in reading that last sentence, that the old productivity metric is maybe not as fit for purpose as might, at first glance, be thought to be? Want to look beyond the sensationalist headlines? Open to considering an uncomfortable idea or two?

How about, ‘economic activity is not the same as productivity’? How do you support such a statement? “…in the midst of the first lockdown in April 2020 there was no economic activity in city centres, but that doesn’t mean that productivity was zero.”

Taking the ‘challenging accepted wisdom’ approach a stage further “workplace research published in March of 2022 asked companies if they would consider making an intervention that had been found to improve team productivity by over 70 percent. The only change that a team needed to enact, the researchers declared, was to commit to two meeting-free days a week.”

Ingrained behaviours becoming cultural norm’s anyone… Considering these two, simple, yet challenging, pieces of information, does it seem easier to challenge the ‘a return to the office will reverse the (questionably measured) productivity decline’ narrative?

What does this all have to do with recruitment?

Zeynep Ton, a professor of operations at MIT, was recently a guest on Daisley’s ‘Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat’ podcast. On the subject of productivity prof Ton highlighted that, “(her) work showed that high employee turnover was ruinous for productivity” because it created chaos.

Daisley clarifies this further by stating what we all know to be true: “…when people quit their jobs a period of unproductivity commences: Bosses and colleagues need to cover the work of the person leaving, the recruitment process takes unproductive attention and new starters take months to ramp up.”

So, about that workplace culture, and its impact on productivity. Here’s Paul J. Zak. Professor of Economic Sciences, Psychology & Management, Claremont Graduate University (as published in the Harvard Business Review): “Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.”

Not sure you want to take advice from a professor at a University that’s not Ivy League / Oxbridge / Red Brick (even if published in one of the most respected business journals)? Here’s the thoughts of London Business School Organisational Behaviour professor, Dan Cable, in sharing the above quote – “What’s holding us back?

What is holding your organisation back? Is productivity being measured in an arcane way? What is that doing for your company culture? How is that impacting retention of staff? What is it doing for your recruitment programme? How is that impacting your bottom line?

If you’re serious about asking these questions, we’re serious about helping you answer them.

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