Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are all in the top 10 most productive countries. These Scandinavian countries also share short working weeks and high ranking in happiness reports. Compare this with the USA is also productive but has a long-hours culture.

Understanding worker productivity can be very beneficial. Read on to learn the many advantages of this important insight.

What is Workforce Productivity?

Productivity is about inputs and outputs. It’s a measurement of the relationship between the time put into a work activity and the resultant product measured in dollars. If you do five hours of work and produce $10,000 value of goods your productivity is $2,000 per hour.

Understanding these factors is key to increasing productivity. Measuring productivity is essential to understand whether any strategies are working.

The Hawthorne Experiments

Between 1924 and 1932, a series of experiments were conducted at the Western Electric Company. The experiments at the Hawthorne Works become some of the most influential in business and human relations. They sought to understand the relationship between working conditions and productivity.

One test examined the effect on the production of electrical equipment with different lighting levels. Productivity did increase.

There was not a simple relationship between lighting and productivity. Other factors, human factors, had a significant impact.

Other studies tried to identify the factors that influenced productivity. They looked at lighting, reward, supervision, hours and even external factors. Results were inconclusive but one factor started to emerge above all others.

The profound discovery was this, workers tend to feel more positive about their work when somebody showed an interest in them.

Mechanization, Automation, and Infrastructure

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. A farmer can improve their grass cutting productivity by giving up a scythe and introducing a horse-drawn mower.

Since the industrial revolution, machines have increased the productivity of workers. Workers in cotton and woolen mills could produce much more finished cloth per hour than a skilled craftsman working in a weavers cottage.

Machines, computers, robots, and other forms of automation can improve productivity. Productivity has been the spur behind the invention of many mechanical or automation processes. A rational response to a need for improved productivity is to ask whether there is a way of automating or mechanizing the activity.

The Importance of Common Goals

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 what the goals are. Some people could set to work, moving the parcels. 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 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 on the personal efforts of workers but also on the decision making of managers.

Without goals, decisions about mechanization can even reduce productivity.

Role Clarity and Worker Productivity

Allied to common 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.

Process and Work Design

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 diagraming 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 useful for people processes as well as automated or computer processes.

Engagement and Motivation

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 can 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 reward.

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 good of the company.

Untapped Human Resource

Discretionary effort is the extra worker productivity they contribute because of their commitment. It may be evident in extra 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.

Learn more about improving workforce morale.