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We can only boost productivity if we take our people with us

Posted by  Mike Ettling

Workplace productivity across advanced industrial countries has slowed dramatically in recent years.

In the US productivity fell in the last recorded quarter for the first time in nearly four years and has enjoyed only weak growth in the last decade. UK productivity grew just 0.3 per cent in the past decade. This was such a profound number that it was named statistic of the decade by the Royal Statistical Society. Eurozone labour productivity recently stopped growing for the first time in a decade. Four of the five largest eurozone economies had negative labour productivity growth in the third quarter of 2018 — the first time since 2009.

Whichever way you look at it - advanced economies are underperforming. And they have been for over a decade. As a consequence, wages are held back, and economic growth is slower than it otherwise should be. Or put another way – we are all poorer because of it. Indeed, many business and civic leaders ask how can it be that this is all happening at a time when many countries, most recently Finland, are considering a four-day week?

The stark reality is that we need to radically transform the world of work through new digital technologies which can free up time for people to focus on innovation. And whilst there is no one silver bullet to the productivity puzzle I believe that enabled by technology the workplace must undergo ‘a democratic revolution’. This is where business decisions are truly devolved, and employees are genuinely empowered to take risks and have their voices heard.

It sounds like idealism perhaps. And many will ask if it is possible to change organisational culture so dramatically over the course of this decade. At Unit4 we recently conducted global research, polling over 1800 people in work which found that half (51%) of employees have no say in where the company or organization they work for is heading. Over a third of organizations polled (37%) rarely or never seek the views of employees.  For those that do consult with staff, over a third of workers (38%) don’t believe the management team acts on their feedback at all.

We were shocked that half of the average workforce feels locked out of setting their own destiny. Why work harder, why innovate more if you are voiceless? Why go that extra mile at all?

You’ll have also seen in the media this week that our research found that over a fifth (21%) of employees worldwide say they have never had any form of contact at all from their CEO. Two-fifths (38%) have only received company-wide emails from the person at the top. I said that today we really have a new board member in companies across the world – the Chief Elusive Officer, the business leader who has not once engaged with their employees or sought to empower them to make decisions that impact the future of their organization.

Because when CEOs are disconnected from their workforce, employees can be left feeling disengaged which can lead to much lower productivity at work and ultimately impact the bottom-line. The tone needs to be set from the top.

We think that is a must if workplace productivity is to be turned around. And it needs to be looked at as a national endeavour not just a pet project for companies that have the capacity to look at it. At the heart of this radical change there needs to be a new and reinvigorated mindset. In the new company structure, decision-making needs to be rapid, diffused and data-driven to make change happen. It should be woven into company culture that transparency is key, critical company data must be shared from the board room to the shop floor.

Equally to effectively empower employees, companies need a structured mentoring and training policy in place. Companies need to ensure all staff have the confidence and ability to succeed in ‘stepping up’ to take decisions. This could include putting in place policies that drive the direction of the company and foster a new attitude that encourages a new attitude.

Above all, it needs a new structure that provides a supportive and collaborative culture. Only this can start the process of building more trust in the workplace and ultimately drive productivity. By putting employees in the driving seat, investing in the right technology to free up the time of people we can start the long journey improving productivity.

It is this that will increase wellbeing and maybe even the wealth of employees across the board too. Please read our report which can be found here and tell me what your experience of this is, I’d love to hear your views.

Mike Ettling

I’m a CEO, Investor, builder of world class teams, champion of diversity and continuous learner, and I’m passionate about people. From my first leadership role in the Boy Scouts, to exec positions in the tech industry, my career has revolved around elevating, engaging and enabling people. I joined Unit4 to get the market as excited in our unique approach to enterprise tech as I am. We’re building systems that change how people experience work, and the impact will be huge. 

Outside of work I’m a family man, a Liverpool supporter, and a proud South African. 

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