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What is productivity and how can it be measured?

At a very high level, it will vary from country to country. A simple measure is to divide the GDP of a country by hours worked. The results show a variance of 3:1 in OECD countries alone. There is a multitude of reasons: attitude, education, culture, infrastructure, communication, natural resources, location and many more. If we look at individual countries, productivity will vary based on industry sectors, labor regulations (often driven by trade unions) and more recently strangulation by health and safety regulations.

Is it a simple comparison between workers?

If a group of employees are doing the same work in the same conditions, it can become a simple comparison between cost and output. However, the following should be taken into consideration:

  • A worker who produces work quicker than other colleagues but takes a lot of time off is ultimately less valuable.
  • Nobody is 100% efficient. Time spent in the kitchen, bathroom, private calls or simply daydreaming cannot be eliminated. However, there is no reason why a pass mark of 80% efficiency should not be achieved.
  • A positive attitude and willingness to learn are great attributes which make distinct contributions to productivity.

How else can productivity be measured?

A ‘simple way’ of measuring productivity is to count the number of tasks completed by an employee, the value of those tasks (output) and compare to the costs of the employee (input). This system works well in a repetitive factory style business but more difficult to achieve if the job description is varied and does not have a direct value assigned to the output.

Another approach is strict time management. It can be a useful indicator but it is restrictive and it does contribute to a galley slave notion and affects morale. Some companies record all phone calls made by employees as well as track keyboard strokes and URL’s visited. It all depends on what type of business you operate and how far you want to track employees – remember that there is a price tag. Voluntary systems are much easier to manage (if they can be implemented).

Some companies resolve to meetings to discuss progress and to track results. This is an expensive way of tracking progress. Eight employees taking part in a one-hour meeting is the equivalent of a full day’s work.

There is documented evidence of an outbound contact center which expected agents to make 100 calls per day. Ironically, successful calls would last longer and the better performing staff found themselves behind their daily target at the end of their shift. They would make up the numbers by simply calling and ending the calls when answered. This is an example of a poor strategy that does not help the business, the employee and the potential customer.

What factors can affect productivity?

  1. The scourge of social media. Most workers have a phone with internet access and a high percentage of staff are active social media users. Companies have resorted to controlling internet access on company equipment but cannot do anything about staff using their phones to access social networks and the many solutions masquerading as ‘collaboration tools’. Easy communication is very important in an organization but a culture of discussing work topics when using collaboration tools must be encouraged and even enforced.
  2. Inadequate staff training. Job training is never-ending. Most companies provide initial training but employees need ongoing refresher courses and if they change jobs will require new skills.
  3. Appropriate tools. Technology is changing at an increasing rate and staff must be provided with the correct tools to deliver positive outcomes.
  4. Does the employee fit the job description? Businesses evolve, employees take on new roles and new responsibilities (often temporarily) and no longer have the opportunity of using their skills on which employment was originally based.
  5. Job satisfaction. A happy employee is a productive employee. Monitor employees. A disgruntled employee will drag others down.
  6. Time management. Everybody benefits from time management methodologies.

Recognize achievers

Everybody loves to be recognized. It is easy to be dragged down the spiral of problem solving and negativity and focus our efforts on the many issues that companies face every day. But for every non-performing employee, there are productive employees who carry most of the load. Don’t forget them. Recognize and reward achievement. They are the backbone of the business.