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Walking The Productivity Tightrope: The Barriers and The Solutions

For employers, productivity is maximising all facets of the business, so its output based. However, for employees, it can mean the reward derived from their output, i.e. reward based productivity. Both are essential to understand so we discuss and offer 4 strategies you can consider to improve productivity.

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Tom Buttle
President & Managing Director
MWW London

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Productivity is a constant conundrum. To ensure profitability and survival, it is essential that productivity is at the forefront of business planning and strategy.

For employers, it’s maximising all facets of the business. However, for employees, it can mean the reward derived from their output, or more simply the financial benefit for the work they do. 

In our most recent international business barometer employee productivity was only the 7th biggest challenge facing business, ranking lower than previous years. Issues  such as recruitment and combating the cost of living crisis now coming to the fore.

In the current cost-of-living crisis, people are sensitised to the financial rewards of work. Indeed, this translates to considering career changes to maximise earning potential which is partly fueling the current ‘employees’ market’ with job-to-job flow reaching an all time high according to McKinsey.

Given the unprecedented period that we find ourselves in, it is beneficial for businesses to understand the current thinking of employees around productivity, even if productivity isn’t their largest challenge. 

Reward-based productivity

We saw evidence of this in a recent project for ClickUp investigating how people rated their own and organisation’s productivity along with how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting their career decisions. 

90% said that the cost-of-living crisis had put pressure on them to increase their salaries. In particular, the cost of energy (31%) and the rising cost of daily living (30%) were affecting people most and thus tying into the motivation to earn more. 

There is an increased desire from employees to either retrain or learn new skills to help them with their search for better personal productivity. 90% of respondents said that they would need to learn at least some new skills, if they change career. A focus on productivity is a win-win situation for employees and employers. Of those who believe their employer ranks high in productivity, 57% say they are not looking for a higher-paid job, which is 11% above the national average of 46%.

Output-based productivity

Nevertheless ways of improving productivity from an output perspective remain important. How and where people work best is an important aspect of this. As a result of the pandemic, hybrid and even remote working have been embraced. 

We were fortunate enough to gain greater insight into this area through a project for the messaging platform Slack. Looking at both knowledge workers and IT Decision Makers, we found that more than half of each group said having flexibility (i.e. choice) over when and where they work would make them more productive. Conversely, less than a quarter said that being in the office full-time would have this effect on them.

The preferred balance between remote and office working is 3 days in the office and two working from home. To crystallise the influence of the working environment on productivity, more than 40% of each group said that hybrid working and working remotely has made them more productive. 

‘Time drains’ are another aspect impacting productivity. These are tasks that take away time that could otherwise be used for specific, job-related tasks. In the same Slack project, we found that meetings were the biggest time drain, either because they could be solved with a message or simply because there are too many.

What emerges is a picture of how productivity can be fostered at work. The critical element appears to be flexibility, especially over working environment, as this allows employees to put themselves in the best position to be their most productive selves. However, another factor is enabling employees to spend as much time as possible on work-related tasks, rather than taking up too much of their time with non-essential, attritional meetings.

Four productivity-enhancing actions to consider

Defining productivity as simply a measure of output ignores the importance people place on the effort versus reward ratio. Businesses would do well to be mindful of the following:

  • Strike a balance between in-office and home working. Employees say that having this balance improves their productivity. By accommodating this, businesses can improve their overall efficiency, which is also a low-cost option for most businesses.
  • Take action on employees’ desire to upskill. It doesn’t have to be just high-cost in-person training. 
  • Appreciate that the cost-of-living crisis is putting increased pressure on people to earn more. Although organisations may not be able to provide financial support due to their own finances, there are other ways. Slide 15 shows you what other businesses have recently done. 
  • Join the 72% of businesses that have used technology to their advantage to reduce business expenses and improve productivity. Whether that’s to automate admin tasks, fix FX rates, facilitate better resource planning, improve business intelligence etc, etc. There are plenty of options out there.

Businesses face a tricky balancing act between making sure that employees are suitably rewarded for their work (but not at the detriment of the business’s health), and giving employees every opportunity to be productive. What steps will you take this year? 

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