Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Productivity: It's either our way or Europe's way

Productivity has been an obsession of economists and manager theorists for decades. Their goal is to determine how much output can be produced during a certain time frame to increase performance. Many companies place a high priority on employee productivity as a way to cut labor costs. Slacking off at work can raise suspicion in any business environment and make one a target for criticism or a slave to agonizing workloads.

In the workplace, measuring productivity has changed dramatically through the years. Early science management focused on how specific tasks should be performed. Encouraged by the research and experiments of Frederick Taylor, a series of motion studies was used to find the best way to perform tasks. At the time, Mr. Taylor believed task completion required a certain routine that would eventually reduce inefficiency, or what he referred to as soldiering.

But his methodology was criticized, and rightfully so. Redundancy can demotivate members and increase inefficiency. There are several factors to take into consideration when determining productivity, namely the type of industry or company being analyzed or how productivity is perceived in certain cultures, or the energy level of employees.

For example, some European countries close their businesses for several hours during the mid-afternoon. Professionals use this time to either lounge at local cafes or head home to sleep through the afternoon.

In the United States, our perception is completely different. Many companies subject their employees to eight hour work days and half hour lunches. Come peak time, you'll find many putting in ten hour shifts and working through lunch. Plenty of work gets done, at least that is what managers aim for, but it comes at the expense of our health.

Our way of doing business leads to unnecessary stress. American workers are not really all that much more productive than their European counterparts. The work is accomplished by both groups, but with different approaches. Americans work longer hours and socialize less, while Europeans manage to balance their professional and social lives. The latter gets the work done without having to compromise their health and time as is the case here.

With technology now taking over many of our tasks, work is accomplished at a much faster pace and the workload continues to spike. So does our blood pressures, cholesterol levels, and stress triggers. What good is extra time if it can't be used to produce more output? That quantity of work may somehow affect the quality of work and indirectly hinder efficiency is not something many managers consider.

Looks like we can learn a thing or two from Europeans.

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