Businesses need to understand staff better to solve productivity puzzle

One third of large businesses spend less than £10,000 a year on understanding what their employees actually do - and how to set targets to improve productivity

One third of large businesses spend less than £10,000 a year on understanding what their employees actually do, and how their roles could be tweaked to boost productivity.

This is despite nearly 90pc of Britain’s largest businesses saying they are worried about the UK’s flat-lining productivity, with two fifths of firms calling their lack of productivity “very concerning”.

UK productivity – output per hour worked — fell for the third successive quarter in the first three months of this year, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Analytics firm Concentra Analytics says that having large companies actually understand their employees’ roles would add £10.4bn to UK GDP — an increase of 0.5pc – helping to solve Britain’s productivity puzzle.

The Concentra Analytics report, written in conjunction with the Centre for Economics and Business Research, says that large firms have adopted a “spray and pray” approach to productivity, investing in technology and artificial intelligence, while overlooking their most expensive and vital asset – their staff.

Nearly 80pc of big businesses have tried to boost productivity, despite low overall investment.

Twenty-nine per cent of businesses that have invested in boosting productivity have spent money on implementing artificial intelligence to automate repetitive tasks, while 31pc have spent money on new technology.

Although CEBR only surveyed larger businesses, Concentra says the findings could apply to most businesses.

Productivity puzzle

Kay Neufeld, head of macroeconomics at CEBR, said: “People are both the largest cost and biggest value creator for almost all organisations. Our analysis has shown that whilst businesses clearly understand overall productivity, when it comes to profit per worker there is a significant informational deficit. In fact, there is a clear correlation between organisations that are most productive and have both macro and micro insight into employee productivity or profit per worker.”

Rupert Morison, CEO of Concentra Analytics, said: “It’s easy to get blinded by the latest new technology, like AI, but businesses are missing a trick by not investing in an accurate understanding of their greatest asset – their people.

“How does that translate into improvements on the ground? Where senior people are wasting time doing transactional work, redistribute the tasks. Where automation is being considered, know what roles it will augment and work it will replace to deliver most value. If the right people are in the right places doing the right things, then productivity naturally follows.

“For organisations that are investing in their future, getting better information on people and what they’re working on improves productivity by making sure the right people are in the right place at the right time to deliver the operating plan. It’s making sure people are clear about their roles, have the competencies for the job and can make a difference that inspires them, not a Friday beer fridge and a pool table.”

Further reading

Productivity essentials for business success

Can you understand your staff by their desks?

If you want to learn more about your employees or, even about yourself, take a look at their desks. Research shows how to spot the artist and the control freak in your office.

The research, from printer cartridge supplier Jet Tec International was conducted in conjunction with psychologist Donna Dawson, who curiously specialises in office psychology, and suggests that a person’s work area sends clear messages about their personality and abilities.

‘Your desk, much like your clothing, is an extension of yourself, and projects a certain image,’ explains Dawson. ‘People form strong impressions of you based on the appearance of your desk. This means you could be sending out all the right – or wrong – messages.’

The five different desk categories identified are:

  • The ‘Artistic Temperament’ Desk – This desk is cluttered, but in an interesting way: books, papers, folders, drawings, photos, artwork and artifacts are all casually strewn across the desk and piled on top of each other. There will be ‘post-it’ notes pinned everywhere, to remind the desk owner of project deadlines and people to contact. He/she has a lively, enquiring mind, a strong imagination, abundant creative ability, and a “gut” feeling about things. Many media people and creative ‘types’ fall into this desk category.
  • The ‘Self-Expression’ Desk – This desktop is an extension of the outgoing person sitting behind it, and it will contain lots of personal touches, such as posters, photos, postcards, cartoons, funny sayings, a zany mouse-mat, etc. One or two mugs will be in evidence, as this person could not survive without their coffee break. This desk-owner is an extrovert, sociable and talkative, with a good sense of humour. Their desks act as a meeting place for others, and this type is often relied on to dispense advice.
  • The ‘Control Freak’ Desk – This desktop may have little on it, or the contents may be neatly arranged to show order and control. Any files or paper stacks will be piled neatly, and any ‘overlapping’ will be neatly constructed. Items such as post-it notes and sellotape will be avoided like the plague because they are ‘too messy’. This desktop owner prides him/herself on being organised and in control. He/she may have trouble getting started, but once into their work they can concentrate completely.
  • The ‘Trophy’ Desk – This is a slightly messy desk with a collection of “things”. These things may be favourite items, but there is a ‘show-off’ feel to them. They could range from travel posters or souvenirs of places visited, to remnants of various work campaigns or sports paraphernalia. These desk owners are friendly, energetic, ambitious, often noisy people, who relate well to others. This is no shrinking violet – these people crave appreciation and attention. Many entrepreneurial types fall into this category.
  • The ‘Show-Off’ Desk – This is a desk that projects a ‘heightened’ image of the person who sits behind it. It is always a large desk, luxuriously made, usually solid dark wood with leather inlay. It may have very little on it, and everything will be strategically placed. However, there is another version of this desk, which does have personal effects on it. These effects will be expensive and classy, and may include gifts given to the desk-owner: for example, a leather-framed photo of a family member or expensive writing implements. This personality craves attention, has high ambitions and aspirations, and needs to feel a cut above the rest. They have a tendency to be arrogant and class-conscious, but balance this out with charm and interesting conversation. He/she works hard and plays hard.