A little more elbow grease: Can your workforce be more productive?

Has the improved economic landscape - and the projection of continued growth over the coming years - encouraged your organisation to hire? If so, you're not alone. As business leaders become more confident, many are committing to recruitment plans, aimed at increasing capacity and preparing for growth.

Competition is fierce for the top talent, with many organisations willing to pay a premium for the best people. These individuals may well offer a strong return on investment - they are the ones who can drive your organisation forward and add value to the bottom line.

A recruitment strategy is vital for organisations aiming to remain at the head of the field and capitalise on commercial opportunities. But at the same time, employers need to think about the contribution their existing workers are making. Are they giving enough to the cause?

The reality is that productivity rates remain way below those recorded in Britain prior to the 2008-09 recession, despite the rise in gross domestic product. Output per worker plummeted at the time of the global financial crisis and it is yet to recover. Is this something you have noticed in your workforce?

The UK's productivity woes

The Office for National Statistics reported that the UK's productivity gap with its main developed-country rivals - the other G7 members - has reached its widest in 20 years. It raises questions as to whether British employers are getting sufficient value for money from their teams.

There are a number of potential reasons for underperforming employees, and each organisation can be different. Low business morale and reduced individual workloads may have been a contributor in the past, but businesses are now hiring in earnest. Why would employers hire new staff unless they needed the extra capacity? Once morale is affected, employees are less likely to go the extra mile for their employer, meaning additional resourcing is needed to complete the same workload.

Poor management decisions - potentially leading to absence and scheduling inefficiency, among other problems - may also cause lower productivity, as can an absence of skills, the loss of experienced staff and outmoded technology solutions. 

Improving the productivity of your workforce

The reality is that increasing employee productivity is never easy. If staff members are obviously under-worked, there may be scope to set more demanding targets - or increase responsibilities - without impacting on their attitude to work, job satisfaction and loyalty. But where employees feel they are already making a sufficient contribution - rightly or wrongly - managers need to tread far more carefully.

Even if output per worker is lower than it should be, demanding more from your workers risks increasing staff attrition, particularly in the current environment. The jobs market is buoyant at the moment, meaning talented professionals have the opportunity to move around if they choose. If employees feel they are being asked to do more for no extra reward, this may encourage them to consider looking for a new job elsewhere. Is it a risk you are willing to take?

When employees leave, there are not only the recruitment and onboarding costs involved with finding a replacement, but you're also faced with the loss of key skills, knowledge and experience from your workforce. It may take the new recruit many months to reach the same productivity level as the person they replaced. In the meantime, your organisation is forced to accept lower output.

So, in order to achieve higher rates of productivity per worker, your organisation needs experienced members of staff who are engaged with their job and motivated to give their all. They need to be capable of providing services of the required quality in as short a possible timeframe, using the minimum number of resources. Given that your expanding teams are likely to have new recruits - individuals who will take some time to get up to speed - it is crucial to keep hold of your best people for as long as possible.

Retaining staff and boosting productivity

If you think your workforce has the potential to deliver more, what can you do to unlock this productivity? Here are a few suggestions for securing the maximum return on your recruitment investment:

  • Hire the right people

Some individuals, by nature, work harder than others. When recruiting, try to bring in people who have a strong work ethic, a willingness to collaborate, and the ability to produce high quality work while meeting tight deadlines.

  • Incentivise your employees

Performance-related contracts can encourage professionals to give their all to the cause. They know the more they deliver, the more they receive. Offering the right pay and benefits can attract good people and keep them for the long term.

  • Be flexible

Where possible, you should allow employees to work flexibly - operating where and when they as most capable of working to the optimum level. For instance, parents of young children may need to work from home or customise their hours.

  • Set challenges

Employees who feel challenged at work and given greater responsibility can often respond in a positive way. They know that by working hard, they have the opportunity to progress their career. A bored employee, working in their comfort zone, is likely to do the bare minimum.

  • Promote teamwork

Where employees collaborate, they reap the benefits of other people's skills, knowledge, expertise and ideas. This can allow them to find better ways of working and overcome challenges more quickly.

  • Use technology

Rapid advances in technology over the past few years mean employees have vast computing power at their fingertips - let them use it. Connected tablets, smartphones and laptops - and super-fast internet speeds - allow professionals to work effectively any time, any place.

  • Upgrade your IT

If employees are still using the same PCs in the office as ten years ago, the chances are they are missing out on all manner of productivity gains. Access to the latest software and apps helps employees work faster and deliver better results. Using outmoded solutions can only slow them down, or - when systems fail - cause technology angst and frustration. Additionally IT innovation within companies attracts professionals, so this could be one focus for you company.

  • Promote rest and recuperation

Fatigued workers cannot operate at optimum levels of productivity. This is what makes regular breaks, good sleeping patterns and annual leave, so important. Employees need to be energised and primed for work, rather than physically and mentally exhausted.

In summary

As an employer, you need to recruit good people and keep them motivated and incentivised to work hard. If you can achieve this, it means your organisation can deliver more using less - and this means greater profitability. There's a fine line to tread as you can't risk burning out your employees or shattering their morale, but offering the right support and encouragement can help them deliver a little bit more.

Tags: Productivity