Making work better – the key to the productivity puzzle
Politicians and policy makers talk a lot about the UK’s poor productivity record, with output per hour still below pre-crisis levels and well behind France, Germany and the USA. Narrowing the productivity gap with our competitors is worth a staggering £21,000 per year for every household in the UK.
Boosting productivity growth (in both the public and private sectors) is seen by employers and unions alike as critical to halting the drift towards a permanent low wage, low value, unequal economy. The government also accepts that higher productivity is the only way to ensure rising living standards and in July 2015 launched its national productivity plan (‘Fixing the Foundations’). The problem is the 15 point plan is directed almost exclusively at employers and investors and lamentably fails to recognise that a critical part of the solution lies in making work better.
Government stresses the importance of improving skills training, but has a blank spot on productivity in the workplace; on the way workplaces are organised and managed, the importance of effective employee voice, trust and security, work-life balance, on pay and rewards, and issues like flexible working and career development. Macro solutions (such as improving transport and more R&D and innovation) are important, but as Acas argues these factors only yield lasting benefits if workplaces are operating at their best.
Our understanding of how workplace culture, management and organisation determine the ability of individuals, employers and the economy to be productive is still very limited. There’s been little effort to understand what employees and their representatives think will help meet the productivity challenge.
In order to help bridge that information gap the Smith Institute has launched a new inquiry into the role of employees and trade unions in raising productivity. We are calling for evidence from workplaces around the UK and will be carrying out a major survey of what trade union members think about productivity.
Employers, unions and government all agree that improving productivity is central to our future prosperity. We need a similar consensus that this goal can’t be achieved unless we pull together to make work better.
For more information on the inquiry download the call for evidence document