Martine Rolls: How can we improve productivity?

By Martine Rolls

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Working in a kiwifruit packhouse can mean 10-12 hour days.
Working in a kiwifruit packhouse can mean 10-12 hour days.

Sometimes you read research findings that surprise you, and make you wonder what can be done to turn things around.

I opened up a story on one of the three news apps I check daily that dealt with the findings of a report released by the OECD Productivity Commission.

It stated that New Zealanders work longer hours than their peers in other developed countries but produce a fifth less.

To top it off, the report also said there's little evidence the situation is improving.

New Zealand "shows no signs of catching up towards higher productivity countries", it said.

On average, Kiwis are working 15 per cent longer than the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as a whole and produce about 20 per cent less output per hour worked.

That we collectively work a great many hours doesn't come as a surprise.

Judging by the jobs I've had myself since living in Tauranga, 9am to 5pm doesn't cut it and 40 hours a week is never enough.

The report states that information media is one of only three industries that had caught up or narrowed the gap since 2010.

The other two are manufacturing and other services, whatever that may be.

One of my friends works as a truck driver. His average working day holds about 14 hours as he drives a truck and trailer unit to Taranaki and back, usually in the middle of the night.

Another friend works in a kiwifruit pack house, now moving on to avocados, and she puts in 10 to 12 hours a day.

That's every day, often on the weekend as well.

The third person I thought of works as a caregiver and spends many hours a week caring for people with disabilities. This includes weekends, night shifts and sleepovers.

All three of them get paid bugger all and that's the reason they work such long hours.

I also know a handful of people who have the luxury of a great work-lifestyle balance.

They put in around 15 but never more than 30 hours a week and take home at least twice as much as those mentioned before, and they are not necessary smarter or better educated.

Most of their working time is spent in meetings, enjoying business lunches paid for by the company or us taxpayers, or checking emails and posting a Facebook status update or two.

On Facebook, someone shared a post that said: "Put politicians on minimum wage and watch how fast things change."

It's unfortunate that everyone who puts in the hard yards can't have such a sweet ride.

The OECD Productivity Commission's report gave no recommendations on how our nation's productivity could be improved, so besides making the calculated guess that offering better incentives to reward productive individuals or teams, what I call PPP (pay people properly), I had a look online to see what companies can do to improve productivity.

The Department of Labour's website www.dol.govt.nz has a FAQ page on the topic, and some interesting tips in an article that can be found under the Employment Relations tab.

One of the recommendations is to encourage innovation and the use of technology.

High-speed broadband has finally been rolled out in Tauranga, and that will boost productivity in certain jobs.

I like to work with two or more computer screens as it saves me clicking back and forward between windows.

It greatly improves the way my work flows and with that my productivity.

The other recommendation from the article that makes sense is to create productive workplace cultures.

Positive relationships between staff, teams and managers are a feature of productive workplaces, the article states.

"A positive work environment motivates people and helps them commit to the organisation. People feel encouraged to go the extra mile. It's also important to value people's insights and experience. Their ideas can help your workplace to do things smarter and better. This means your workplace will become more innovative and productive over time," it concludes.

There is no one-size-fits all solution for improving workplace productivity but I think that if pay was performance related and if people would be valued more for what they put into a business, practically everyone would work harder and smarter.

If that happens across the board, that OECD report will look a little different the next time it gets released.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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