UK productivity: HR need to be praised for the boost

Praise in the workplace
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The latest economic figures show that productivity has risen at its fastest rate for the past six years, but what is really behind this jump? Gary Cattermole, Director, The Survey Initiative, believes that it’s thanks to HRs and it’s about time they got a well -deserved pat on the back. He explains…

I read with great interest that productivity has shot up and it made me feel really good about myself, the work that we do as an employee engagement consultancy, and that of our clients. However, my mood had really changed by the time I’d finished the report.

The reporter had cited the following reasons as to why our nation had boosted its rates of productivity: increased factory output, weaker jobs growth and the UK economy generating broadly the same amount of output for fewer hours worked. I wondered whether the reporter had stepped back and considered how output had risen with fewer hours worked? Have we undergone a technological revolution? Were we just plain lazy beforehand? No.

HRs up and down the country have consulted with their staff, looked at ways to work differently, embraced change, empowered staff to be more entrepreneurial and developed far reaching employee engagement programmes to ensure staff will go the extra mile, and of course productivity levels have risen.

The fact that the UK has boosted productivity of its labour force is great. But we do need to question why HR is not hitting the headlines? Getting more from your staff in the recent economic climate is not easy. Over recent years the workforce has been asked to work harder and smarter, go the extra mile, receive minimal pay increases, offered zero hours contracts, under fears of economic uncertainty and redundancies.

So why aren’t HRs being applauded as superheroes and getting any thanks?

It’s back to that old elephant in the room. HR needs to raise its stature at the boardroom table. How many times have we all heard the phrase – ‘We would be nothing without our employees’? However, when it comes to resources and accounting for return on investment, HR is still floundering in the boardroom.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve come along way. Just a few years ago, we would discuss employee engagement and out of an HR arena, top business leaders would comment and say – ‘Isn’t that some sort of American thing?’ or, ‘in these economic times they should just be grateful they’ve got a job.’

We’ve noticed a real shift to organisation’s embracing employee engagement and really working hard to consult their staff to understand their thoughts and minds and empowering their brightest minds to be more entrepreneurial and create fresh solutions for the future. The trouble is many organisations are not including return on investment analysis into the consultation/staff survey and next steps process.

So, HRs are doing a great job, but they’re not able to go back to the boardroom and provide quantifiable data on their successes. Agreed sometimes it’s hard to put a number on everything, but HRs need to work with their partners to ensure wherever possible they benchmark performance, and create quantifiable objectives, which will allow them to illustrate their impact on the company’s bottom line and productivity levels.

Yes, not everyone can be an Apple or a Facebook where their CEOs are totally switched on to creating a workplace of the future. You may find your own CEO is reticent to invest in engagement strategies and sneer at the likes of say YouTube for placing a funky London Bus in the centre of their workplace, but if it works for them, that’s all that matters, it’s just essential you consult with your staff to find solutions that work for you.

But remember boardroom arrogance is the first nail in the productivity coffin, and when you’re employing thousands of staff in a manufacturing setting, when they’re working harder, receiving sometimes the same pay they did a few years ago, maybe living under the fear of redundancy, someone has to step back and applaud the heroic work that HRs have been doing up and down this country.

About Gary Cattermole

Gary Cattermole

I am a dedicated employee research expert with over 15 years experience in helping organisations gain deeper insight and understanding of what makes their employees tick.

Currently I am a Director at The Survey Initiative - a boutique employee research organisation.  I have the pleasure of working with organisations as diverse as the Telegraph Media Group, Schaeffler, Epson, Royal Society of Chemistry, PhonepayPlus, Places for People and Ashtma UK.

Over the past 3 to 4 years a large degree of our work has focused on employee engagement and assisting organisations in getting a grounding on what is driving engagemement in their organisation - this is through a range of research techniques from surveys to workshops.  In addition, we have been facilitating actions and implementing techniques to help Senior and Middle managers better understand what engagement is and what they can do practically, on a day to day level, to create an environment where employee engagement can thrive.

I'm delighted to be part of HR Zone and contribute to discussions, articles and blogs.

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