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Productivity: Let’s talk about a national disgrace

Productivity: a national disgrace

August 3, 2015

Productivity, says the Daily Telegraph, is a national disgrace.

When it comes to the value we generate from an hour of our labour, the UK ranks last but one among the world’s leading economies.

We are 31% below the US and almost as far behind Germany. Even our serial-striking Gallic neighbours over the channel are ahead of us by a margin of more than 20%.

But how can this be?

Britain is booming. We work hard.

Since the recession we have created two million jobs. Our minuscule unemployment puts the rest of Europe to shame and our economy is growing faster than Chris Froome with a secret engine on his racing bike.

As a nation we’re working harder than ever, with more people working more hours, and that is why we are growing.

But we’re not working smarter.

In fact we are not ever working as smart as we were in 2008.

The sad fact is that we are, to coin management training speak, “busy fools”.

That means that every one of those hours we spend at work is less productive that it used to be – and much less productive than it could be.

And the bottom line is that as businesses and as individuals, we’re at least 16% worse off than we should be at this stage in our economic cycle.

Poor productivity matters to employers, but it also matters to employees.

Put brutally, it is costing the average British family around £5,000 a year in lost salary increases.

Why is our productivity so poor?

Ask five economists and you’ll get five different answers: Lack of investment; a legacy of reluctance to cut staff during the recession; lack of innovation; ageing workforce; bad weather; bad luck….

According to last month’s Government briefing paper: “None are sufficient on their own to explain entirely what has happened and this makes it difficult to predict when and if the weakness in productivity growth will come to an end.”

But I know the answer.

Speaking as an internal communicator, there appears to be what is fashionably termed as an enormous elephant in the room.

It is called employee engagement.

Back in 2013 David Macleod wrote that poor engagement was costing the UK economy £25.8bn each year in comparison to our better-engaged economic peers.

Five years earlier research by my own agency, Headlines – The Internal Communications Agency, came up with a similar verdict and pointed to higher engagement improving profitability by over £1,000 per employee per year.

Few people in our industry would argue that productivity and employee engagement – and by association internal communication – are not integrally linked.

The case for communication and engagement are established.

But simply communicating and engaging and hoping for improvement is not on its own enough.

Right now productivity is quite possibly the most critical challenge facing almost every employee, and every organisation, in our country.

Yet how many IC strategies place it at the top of their agenda?

We chip away at bits of it tagged on to a medley of other causes: five year plans; change campaigns; vision and values; diversity; organisational refocus.

But, as communicators, we should use our influence and encourage our masters to get straight to the point.

Because there is one objective that is a game changer and makes everything else look like a vanity project.

Improve productivity by working together to work smarter. Full stop.

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