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Making the workforce more productive

Paul Burrin, vice president at Sage People

Many of us have seen someone leave the office at the end of the day looking exasperated after having been so busy, yet not actually managing to tick a single item off their to-do list.

With regular meetings, hundreds of emails and too many colleagues tapping you on the shoulder in the office, it can be hard to find the time to focus on that one important task you’ve been wanting to get done all week. By the end of the week, you’re shattered and wondering what you have to show for the hours you have worked. This is a regular occurrence for many individuals and teams.

In fact, our research ‘Why your workforce isn’t working’ found exactly that. More than a third of employees admitted they’re productive for less than 30 hours a week. That’s a whole day each week that they’re working, but not actually being productive.

As HR and people leaders it’s probably something we’re too overly familiar with. Hands up who feels like they’re caught up in the day to day requests, instead of those strategic initiatives which have been on your desk longer than you can remember?

What really gets the workforce to be more productive?

In the US alone, a staggering $450-$550 billion a year is lost because of poor employee productivity. For HR and people teams, getting your workforce productive is becoming an increasing challenge – and a bigger priority for senior leaders than ever before.

The problem

Free food, beer fridges, ping-pong tables, beanbags and company outings. These were things just 5% of employees cited as valuable. It’s ironic a lot of these things are those which companies believe to be vital in attracting and retaining top talent.

A staggering 40% of companies polled think benefits and games in the office are important to employees. Ultimately, employees don’t value them as much as employers think. Just because there’s a ping-pong table in the office, it doesn’t mean employees are more engaged. The good news is that our research found some clear trends around what really drives employees at work and gets them productive.

Flexible working

Working 9-5? What a way to make a living, and probably not a in a good way when it comes to a productive workforce. It’s a rarity nowadays, with just 6% of the UK workforce working these hours, whether it’s family needs, personal obligations, or simply to avoid rush hour.

In fact, it’s so important to people that as many as 80% of people we polled in our research placed importance and value on flexible working. Allowing employees flexibility and trusting them to manage their own working hours around their personal commitments goes a long way to a better work-life balance.

In doing so, businesses benefit by having happy and engaged employees in the workplace (wherever they may be), making them much more productive.

Eliminating overworking

Despite people spending longer at work, we’re not getting more done. Overworking isn’t solving the global productivity crisis.

As productivity continues to dip, the hours we work are creeping up. A recent Stanford Study has found that we can actually get more done by working less. It found that productivity per hour declines sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week. After 55 hours, it’s the law of diminishing returns where productivity drops so much that putting in any more hours would be pointless.

Creating a culture where people don’t feel they have to be seen putting in long hours to progress up the career ladder may create happier, more engaged and more efficient employees.

Value and recognition

One of the biggest things employees we spoke to said they cared about was feeling valued in the workplace and being recognised for the work that they did. 66% of respondents said this was important. Workers aren’t fussed about quirky benefits or company outings. They just want their employer to say: ‘great job’. They want to feel that their company values the contribution that they’re making to the business.

Meaningful work experiences

Finally, the starkest finding from our research was that 78% of employees we spoke to said that great workforce experiences drive them to be more productive. This figure jumps to 92% for the younger generations; a demographic that will comprise 50% of the workforce by 2020.

Employees don’t care about the gimmicks – the ping pong tables and free beer. Instead, they simply want to not feel overworked; they want to be trusted to work flexibly; they want to feel valued for the work they do. It’s all these which contribute towards a great workforce experience, which ultimately gets them productive.

Get this right, and your organisation will thrive.

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