Productivity is not a 4-letter word

I am deeply interested in workforce productivity. I find the realities and complexities fascinating, but not nearly as much as people’s response to the topic. At once, manager’s ears perk up while workers scowl at the mere mention of the word.

Particularly during this global recession, organizations are trying to do “more with less”; stretching finite funding and resources. This hits human resources hard in terms of hiring freezes, staff reductions, more overtime, less training, fewer perks, and increasing pressure to perform. The health care sector is particularly vulnerable to the “more with less” reality, having had to strike a careful balance between finite funding and both emerging technological developments and increasing demands made by an aging population.

This issue gets more complicated when management and employees find themselves at opposite ends of the values spectrum regarding productivity. While organizations seek to do “more with less”, people recognize that there is a critical threshold beyond which they will be doing everything with nothing. The relative position of that critical threshold is at the heart of this divisive issue and may itself emerge as a barrier to productivity.

Perhaps it is in our definition of workforce productivity that we could gain some common ground. With 17 years experience as a career counsellor, I can confidently assert that no person I have ever met felt better about their work when their relative strengths and contributions were squandered by their employers. People want to be useful, valued and to contribute meaningfully. If we revised our definition to better capture the sense of “unleashing” the strengths, knowledge and experience of our workforce, perhaps we could discover shared values from which to improve productivity collaboratively.

This debate must veer away from the mathematical function of getting more outputs per input and embrace the idea that there may be untapped insights, ideas, contributions and solutions present within our workforce that we haven’t realized and that optimizing those untapped resources will be advantageous both to organizational objectives and to individual satisfaction and engagement at work. In challenging our definition of productivity, we open the door to get both managers and employees on the same side of that critical threshold, pushing productivity to new levels together.


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