Productivity in the Workplace Has Dipped: Here’s Why
If you read Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, you may have seen the front page of the “Markets” section. On it was the “WSJ’s Daily Shot: The Financial State of America in Six Charts,” with a specific Productivity Growth chart (sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) stating that productivity in 2016 had dipped down below 5%— a stark contrast to previous years.
How does the government calculate productivity?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Labor Productivity and Cost FAQs, productivity is calculated “…by comparing the amount of goods and services produced with the inputs which were used in production. Labor productivity is the ratio of the output of goods and services to the labor hours devoted to the production of that output.”
In turn, the BLS defines “output” as the following:
“Business sector output is based on GDP, but includes only a subset of the goods and services included in GDP. The business sector comprises about 75 percent of GDP since it must exclude those portions of the economy for which productivity measures cannot be constructed,” their FAQs state. “General government, the output of the employees of nonprofit institutions and private households, and the rental value of owner-occupied real estate are excluded.”
Hours don’t mean productivity
In a recent Fortune article, the average workweek in the United States was reported at about 34 hours. Likewise, according to a 2015 Forbes article, 11.4% of employees work more than 50 hours per week.
So, with a substantial amount of hours still being worked weekly (and many going above and beyond the nation’s average), why have we shown recent productivity go down according to government stats?
For starters, working long hours doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re accomplishing the most important tasks that will affect real output, or outcomes. This can be due to a myriad of reasons. A few that we’ve seen:
— Email is a Time Suck
We’ve written past blogs, equating email to a heroin drip. For many, this is an addiction— and one that’s extremely difficult to move past. Not only can it reprioritize an employee’s day for them, it can require a substantial amount of time to sift through information, reply and weed out what’s urgent from what isn’t. Although this may seem like something that just needs to be done, digging through your inbox isn’t typically time spent that will help you get closer to revenue, KPI and department goals. Especially when you have big goals, this is key.
— Not Focusing On What’s Really Important
People may not necessarily realize that what they’re focusing on isn’t contributing to accomplishing their biggest goals (our email example above definitely applies here). In these cases, although it may seem like you’re making headway, not all progress is good. It’s important to differentiate what tasks, projects and daily to-dos will directly help you to reach your desired outcomes. This is often why some form of productivity analytics can be so important— they help you to distinguish time-sucks from time well spent, helping you to make progress towards your end goal.
— App Overload
Let’s be honest. With a million logins, apps, places to view reporting, etc., time is often wasted checking alerts, messages and gathering data from an overabundance of sources. Not only does this end up limiting the amount of time that we actually spend doing meaningful tasks, it can also waste money. After all, think of all of the apps that you may have spent money on that you don’t use to their fullest potential. Especially when not used in an efficient way, many productivity apps can actually end up being the antithesis of productivity.
In the end, it’s important to remember that true productivity isn’t the number of hours spent in an office. It’s time utilized efficiently, to help you reach your biggest goals and help your company to truly move the needle.