According to recent numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), measures of worker productivity are in a slump. Over the past year, productivity (defined as output divided by hours worked) has declined 0.4%.
That may seem like a surprise to many of us. There are technology and tools that are supposed to help us be more collaborative and productive. We are more connected to our work than ever before and working longer hours. To wit, according to that same report, the number of hours worked over the same time frame has increased by 1.5%.
Why aren’t we getting more done? There are a couple of different potential explanations.
One argument is that all of that innovation and technology aren’t doing much to help productivity. Even smartphones and the like haven’t changed essential business methods or operations since the 1990s and early 2000s, even as they have made our lives easier (or maybe just made us more distracted). Another argument points to lower levels of investment by companies, responding to greater uncertainty in markets and talent pools alongside downward pressures on profits.
A common underlying factor that could help explain them both is the importance of the employee experience, a large part of which is the mental contract between worker and employer. Until recently, that contract emphasized the long-term. Employees would expect to stay with a company and in turn, expect that company to invest in them through training, development, and technology to maximize productivity. Unfortunately, such contracts rarely exist today.
Instead, employers need to rethink the terms in a way that maximizes benefits to employee and employer alike. The emphasis needs to rest on enriching the employee experience beyond the standard quid pro quo. One way is to introduce greater humanity into the workplace, specifically in ways that allow employees to feel valued and empowered to maximize their own productivity.
A culture of reward and recognition stands as a foundational element in that approach, with several important downstream benefits.
First, it allows a company to demonstrate the investment and value it places in its employees, while encouraging discretionary energy across the organization. Both likely have positive impacts on productivity. Reward and recognition also reinforces more of the human side of work – empowering individuals, helping to build stronger work relationships, and providing real-time opportunities for growth and feedback. At a broader level, recognition can help scale innovation across an organization, localized best practices or ideas that can help everyone become more productive.
These types of approaches can be difficult to measure, especially at the macro level of the BLS, but are nevertheless impactful drivers of bringing employees and employers together to become more productive.
What does your organization do to help maximize productivity?
As Globoforce’s Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. He is the co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and his articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.