The Good and Bad of Productivity Increases

Increasing productivity is an admirable goal with a serious downside.

In the best sense, increasing productivity means working smarter that includes:

    • Training employees in more effective, efficient ways of working,

    • Enriching resources, such IT equipment or applications, that increase employees’ capabilities,

    • Eliminating wasteful activities, such as excessive paperwork or prolonged meetings.

Too often, pushes for increasing productivity have a not-so-smart foundation. Resources are diminished or work demands are increased without introducing any smarter ways of working. The anticipated productivity gain rests on hopes the employees will exert themselves more vigorously. The resource boost for increasing productivity comes from the individual employee rather than from the employer.

Diminishing resources is a risky strategy. It may be possible to inspire a workgroup to exert additional effort but is it more likely that people will resent such demands. Most people believe they are already working hard enough. As is clear from the graph below, the more people believe that their work demands exceed their resources, the more exhausted they feel. Exhausted employees are an unlikely source of extra effort.

Exhaustion by Demands

The challenge for leaders is to finding smarter ways of addressing resource constraints. Lacking smart solutions, leaders face serious, but not necessarily insurmountable, challenges in encouraging employees to buy into the new world order.

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