Is less more when trying to boost productivity?


It’s an inescapable fact that the UK has a productivity problem. Employment is at a near record high and the average UK worker puts in 43.6hrs of hard graft every week, so this isn’t exactly a nation of slackers. Yet with every set of economic performance data the government publishes the lack of productivity is highlighted as a major reason for the UK economy not performing better.

To give you an idea of the scale of the problem the UK is 30% less productive than workers in France, Germany and America. To put that in perspective if the UK upped its output to match its rivals, every worker could arguably take Friday off without taking a pay-cut.

Perhaps it is a little unfair to focus so harshly on the UKs inefficiency. It is by no means the worst offender and of course it isn’t the only nation looking to improve productivity as the issue becomes more hotly debated globally. In efforts to cut costs, improve profits, enhance economic performance and improve employee well-being, the issue of productivity is slowly rising up the international business agenda and countries are increasingly looking for innovative ways to address the issue.

Reducing the Working Day

The most high profile of these attempts to date has been Sweden where a six hour working day is being trialled in efforts to boost productivity and overall business performance, as well as ensuring citizens have a healthy work-life balance. The move follows the success of the move in the country’s second city Gothenburg, which introduced the shorter working hours 13 years ago. Since the scheme was launched, employers in the city have reported happier staff, a lower turnover rate, and an increase in profits as workers became more efficient.

But while this is undoubtedly an innovative approach to the issue, it is one that many businesses find unappealing, either because they are wedded to the idea of an 8hr day or because they are nervous about trialling it, fearing the impact on their bottom line. It seems that for many the ‘Swedish approach’ is one they may aspire to follow one day but need to see more encouraging signs of improved productivity before taking the leap of faith.

The Extra 30%

With businesses seemingly sceptical about the benefits of a shorter working day while they lag behind by as much as a third in terms of efficiency, the focus must shift to finding alternative ways to make up that extra 30% of slack in the economy. Yet, as the debate around workplace productivity has come sharply into focus, the role technology could play in boosting business output has remained largely off the agenda.

This is surprising especially when you look at the reasons given for the UK’s productivity shortfall, which are commonly given as comparatively poor transport infrastructures, poor management and poor training. While at a national level these issues may be difficult to tackle, solutions do exist to improve and ease the restrictions they cause at an individual business level, to improve performance and productivity.

Take for instance the issue of the UK’s limited infrastructure. We all know that the M25 in commuter hours is like visiting a parking lot, that there is a high chance that the train or underground will be ‘experiencing delays’, and that Heathrow desperately needs another runway. These are big national issues that can’t be solved overnight. Yet on a business level dynamic scheduling and route planning tools can help ensure that staff aren’t looping the M25 multiple times in a week or zigzagging between Manchester, Sheffield and Cardiff. Users of our own mobile CRM solution indicate this can cut travel times by up to 20% – all time that can be used more productively. 

Utilising Analytics for Enhanced Management, Better Training

The same principles apply to the issues of bad management and poor training – two issues that in my experience tend to go hand in hand. Changing the curriculum to develop different skillsets and investing in Universities and training schemes are lengthy and complicated processes. Not only that, it wouldn’t solve the issues around management and training in the short term.

However many businesses fail to utilise tools that could improve their own performance and training in the here and now, failing to provide managers with the data and analysis solutions that are available. The absence of such tools also means that they lack the insight they require to identify those members of staff that need the most support and training. And as a consequence poor performance and skill shortages in the workforce are allowed to continue for far longer than they need to. Furthermore huge amounts of time are wasted across the average business on collating data and information that in many cases could be automatically collected by solutions that are readily available and would free up the workforce to be more productive.

With the UK’s productivity so far behind many of its competitors, businesses have to be looking for ways to enhance efficiency, as the status quo of longer working hours, for the same pay, with the same output simply isn’t sustainable. By turning to technology UK businesses should be able to close the gap on other nations far more quickly than by sitting around waiting for government to change the environment in which they are operating. In doing so, they may just position themselves to follow Sweden’s example – and boost productivity even further.