“There aren’t enough hours in a day. We’re behind schedule. We’ll miss the deadline. I need that ASAP or by COB, or we are not OK.” Phrases like this are muttered (or shouted) in workplaces of every shape and size each day. Often rooted in the desire to be more productive – and so, more valued or more competitive, perhaps – workers, teams, and companies overall may be lacking the understanding about what fuels workplace productivity. Understanding workforce productivity can be very beneficial.
Productivity is the measure of production against efficiency. Workforce or worker productivity is the number of goods and services that a group of workers produces in a given amount of time. It is one of several types of productivity that economists measure.
Understanding factors that influence productivity and how to measure productivity are essential to increasing productivity.
Between 1924 and 1932, groundbreaking studies were conducted at the Western Electric Company. They sought to understand the relationship between working conditions and productivity. Known as the Hawthorne Experiments, the studies became some of the most influential in business and human relations.
One test examined the effect on the production of electrical equipment with different lighting levels. Results showed that productivity did increase in correlation with better illumination. Researchers also discovered that there was a lack of a consistent correlation between lighting levels and product output. Other factors, human factors, had a significant influence on productivity. Additional tests evaluated factors of reward, supervision, hours, and even external factors. Results were inconclusive, but one factor started to emerge above all others. The profound discovery was that workers tend to feel more positive about their work when somebody shows an interest in them. This discovery eventually led to an employee counseling program, now widely practiced in personnel management circles.
Productivity is not all about people. Other non-human factors affect productivity. Tools and machines have often been a way in which human beings have improved their productivity.
Since the industrial revolution, machines have increased the productivity of workers.
The ability to automate processes marked a significant shift in the capacity to increase manufacturing productivity and quality. Automation has always been propelled by the desire to get more done, reduce costs, and limit the possibility of human error, all at once.
Machines, computers, robots, and other forms of automation can improve productivity. Productivity has been the catalyst of many mechanical or automation processes. A rational response to a need for improved workforce productivity is to ask whether there is a way of automating or mechanizing the activity.
Any business activity has to have people involved in some way or another. Whether this is an individual or a team, goals make a significant difference to productivity.
Imagine you and some work colleagues are engaged in moving some parcels, but you don’t establish your goals. Some people could set to work, moving the boxes. Each may have a different idea about where to move the parcels. Some move them fast and others slow. Some people could go for a break first and then turn up too late. Each of the people has a different idea about what needs doing. They each have different ideas about how to complete the work.
A major contributor to low productivity is a lack of understanding about goals. This not only impacts the personal efforts of workers but also on the decision-making of managers.
Without goals, decisions about mechanization can even reduce productivity.
Allied to shared goals is the issue of roles. Even when people understand specific goals, they may not understand what their contribution is to goal achievement. As a result, they either do nothing or do the wrong things.
The roles workers have should be defined and made clear to them. They need to be established along with clear roles for everybody involved in the productive activity. This ensures that everybody makes their contribution, and nothing is forgotten in the group activity.
Understanding everything in the business process or production activity is key to streamlining productivity. It can be helpful to draw up the business or production process as a flow diagram. Inputs and outputs can be documented along with the steps in the process.
Process diagramming or mapping can help identify bottlenecks that slow production. Also, they can help identify duplication of effort and weaknesses where quality issues arise. They are helpful for people processes as well as automated or computer processes.
Think of a process diagram like a construction blueprint. See how all the people and pieces fit together for a complete picture. There are three basic steps to diagram your process:
If need be, repeat steps 2 and 3 until everyone is satisfied with the end result.
Just because people know what is expected of them and have the best automation and tools at their disposal doesn’t mean they will be productive. The Hawthorne Experiment demonstrated that human factors could make a significant difference. Disengaged people can inhibit or even sabotage the collective effort.
Engaged workers are those who see their own and the company’s objectives in alignment. Their own rewards, interests, and motivations are consistent with those of the company. Achieve this through effective leadership, communication, involvement, and financial compensation.
The effect of this is that workers don’t just do what’s expected of them, but they also use their discretionary effort for the company’s good.
Discretionary effort is the extra worker productivity they contribute because of their commitment. It may be evident in additional production, staying later than required, helping solve problems, and going the extra mile for customers. This unpaid contribution to the company could be the untapped human resource your business needs.