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Carole Sayer: We're busier than ever, but are we being more productive?

Friday 15 July 2016

Carole Sayer, Policy Adviser at Acas looks at two reports out this week - one on the early impact of national living wage, and the other on employee views of meeting the UK's productivity challenge.

Carole Sayer Carole Sayer

Carole Sayer is a Guidance Advisor at Acas.




A survey by CIPD/Resolution Foundation (RF) in September found that most organisations said they would accommodate the National Living Wage (NLW) by improving productivity. The first 100 days: Early evidence of the impact of the National Living Wage, published this week, reports on what has actually happened rather than the good intentions.

The headline is that employers have responded to the NLW by putting up prices.

I suppose it would be easy to point the finger at employers for not being more creative in their responses, but some sectors face more complex challenges and need to find short-term gains. Speaking at the launch of the paper, Helen Dickenson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, spoke of the market pressures facing the retail sector in the form of slow growth, rising costs and increases in online shopping.

The Acas report pdf icon Building Productivity in the UK [644kb] found that solving the productivity puzzle was never going to be easy. But, a report from the Smith Institute published this week shows we don't need to get fixated on short-term or long-term goals. As the Chief Executive of ADS Group, Paul Everett, said at the launch of Working harder not smarter:

"The key to improved productivity is incremental improvements empowered by employees, backed by managers and driven by the shop floor."

But what do these 'incremental improvements' mean in practice? The report points towards the need to:

  • Listen and involve: employees believe that organisations can be more productive if managers talk to them and involve them in finding solutions to workplace problems.
  • Improve line manager skills: employees think that managers are too overwhelmed with work and driven by targets to spend time getting the best from their teams.
  • Embrace new technology: employees overall tend to embrace new technology in the workplace believing it can improve productivity, although some are concerned that it may threaten their job security. The Acas research paper "pdf icon Going Digital? Harnessing Social Media for Employee Voice [1Mb]" finds that employers are effective in using technology and social media externally with customers but less so internally with employees. It looks like there is scope here for employers to do more.

How does an organisation know it is doing as much as it can to improve productivity? Take the Acas Productivity Tool test to understand your organisation's strengths and weaknesses, and to help you identify simple practical steps you can take to get the best out of your staff.

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