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Uneven Global Labor Productivity Rates Force Businesses to Consider New Fixes

Increasing labor or worker productivity remains a key competitive focus for global companies. And recently, the global news has been mixed.

In the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reports that “U.S. worker productivity grew at a familiar modest rate to start the year, flagging a potential headwind to hopes for stronger overall economic growth in 2018.”

However even that increase might not be sufficient.The WSJ adds: “Productivity gains would need to accelerate significantly for growth in economic output to maintain the 3% growth rate President Donald Trump has set as a goal, especially if a tight labor market makes it more difficult for employers to add workers.”

Meanwhile, in Europe, the news appears more urgent. The Financial Times reports: “Declining productivity should be “a wake-up call” for the UK, business leaders warned after new data showed it dropped sharply during the first three months of 2018.” The piece adds: “Output per hour worked fell by 0.5 per cent during the first quarter of 2018 as hours worked rose without a matching increase in economic growth, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics.”

As corporate boards and c-suites grapple with new ways to increase productivity — including various technology or new investment solutions —  one area of focus sits within employees themselves: Burnout.

While there’s no clinical definition of employee burnout, it’s generally defined as having one of these three components:

  1. Exhaustion (lost energy)
  2. Cynicism (lost enthusiasm)
  3. Inefficacy (poor performance or confidence)

All three, or only one or two, need to be present for an employee to feel burnt out.

Working Conditions Play a Role

As opposed to external or unexpected factors that can disrupt an effective business strategy, failure to maximize employee potential often represents a self-inflicted error. A quick checklist can help business leaders evaluate the potential for burnout within the workforce. Among the internal factors that can influence the level of burnout:

  • High workloads
  • A lack of control over one’s work
  • Bullying
  • Burdensome administrative duties
  • Low level of institutional resources
  • Stressed leadership
  • Lack of business strategy

These impacts can spread virally throughout an organization, infecting person after person, lowering morale and leading to more departures from the company.

Turn Off Your Devices

One major aspect of burnout is the inability to “turn off” the office. Smartphones and connected devices make it easier for us to be connected no matter where we are and at any time.

In some cases, this means employees feel obligated to check in on nights, weekends, and vacations. Businesses should establish rules for when employees are expected to be available; clarity matters. Articulating this availability to colleagues, subordinates, and supervisors is a good follow-up step, too.

The workplace environment and coworkers can have a major impact on the level of employee burnout.

Be Sure It’s Burnout

Many burnout symptoms can be signs of other emotional or physical illness. Indeed a study, titled “Motivational Incongruence and Well-Being at the Workplace: Person-Job Fit, Job Burnout, and Physical Symptoms” and published in Frontiers in Psychology “investigated to what extent a misfit between motivational needs and supplies at the workplace affects two key health outcomes: burnout and physical symptoms.”

Ask Big Questions

Questions that business leaders can ask:

  • Is the labor force properly positioned? Despite the understandable desire to fill roles with workers who have done it before, specific jobs should be designed and filled by people who can grow into them. Working below ones potential can be severely demoralizing.
  • Is there alignment? In an ideal situation, the organization’s work and values will align with employees’ values and beliefs.
  • What is their future? Do employees see a personal growth path? Is there an opportunity to move into a business leadership position vertically or horizontally within the organization?
  • What is the cost? Quantifying burnout costs is one way to determine next steps.