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Gill Dix: Waking up to the workplace

Monday 10 November 2014

Gill Dix, Head of Strategy at Acas, reflects on the UK productivity puzzle following Ha-Joon Chang's recent publication and papers by Keith Sisson and Professor Ewart Keep.


Gill Dix 

Gill Dix is Head of Strategy at Acas. 

Gill Dix

Has Ha-Joon Chang nailed it? In his critique on the state of 'economics'  the Cambridge economist has called for the study of economics to embrace the relevance of what goes on inside the workplace - and not just focus on the macro story. Chang argues that economists have for too long left 'other people' (like engineers and business managers) to study our offices and factories.

So, is it time we took the workplace more seriously and recognised that the way work is managed and designed can be critical to the economy and have a profound influence on all kinds of social change?

New trains of thoughts are beginning to emerge about how we can unlock the huge human potential in skills and innovation that exists in so many workplaces. Much of this thinking takes as its starting point, not the big problems with UK Ltd like the banking and financial systems, but what have too often been seen as the small things.

In a paper for Acas (pdf icon The UK Productivity Puzzle - is employment relations the missing piece? [255kb]), Keith Sisson puts forward the argument for a 'bottom up' approach to the addressing the UK's widely documented productivity puzzle. This involves organisations taking a hard look at both workplace behaviours and practices. It's about getting procedures right, yes, but it goes beyond this to address issues of confidence and skills so that line managers and employees can make their own contribution to driving innovation.

This is the bread and butter stuff of Acas. We provide a host of services designed precisely to address how organisations can up their game by getting their culture and practices in order.

So far, so good, but we still do not know the whole story.

In his new paper, pdf icon Rediscovering human potential – a response to Keith Sisson’s paper on the ‘UK productivity problem’ [127kb], Ewart Keep suggests that although we may know what all the main drivers of productivity are - like employee voice, effective communication and consultation, fairness and equality etc - we need to know factor in more about the way skills are utilised - underemployment is counter productive, and poorly designed jobs mean that skills are going to waste. Keep also flags the question of how these factors coalesce to drive up productivity.

Over the coming months Acas will be publishing a series of papers on how workplaces can make a difference to the UK productivity puzzle. We welcome your thoughts and contributions.

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