Culture | The shocking truth about employee productivity

The shocking truth about employee productivity

There is a common misconception at the heart of corporate culture that many would simply like to ignore. However, ignoring the hard truth about workplace productivity leaves absolutely no room for progressive dialogue or change.

It is a fact that for the vast majority of workers, mood, fatigue, wellbeing and any number of external factors can affect workplace productivity, and simply expecting an employee to focus solely on their job within the work day with no breaks or reflection time simply isn’t viable – nor is it actually beneficial for productivity.

This is the case because the length of the workday has very little to do with optimal human concentration; the eight-hour workday was designed for the age of the industrial revolution, not for workers in the digital age.

In the 18th Century, workers were expected to put in shifts of ten to 16 hours, which led to burnout, illness and unsustainable workforces. The concept of an eight-hour day was designed to combat this and was proposed by Welsh activist Robert Owen on the basis that dedicating eight hours each to work, recreational activities and sleeping was appropriate.

Yet with modern analysis, we’ve come to a very different conclusion. Research conducted by VoucherCloud found that the average employee is productive for just two hours and 53 minutes for every eight hours worked. The study polled 2,000 UK workers over the age of 18 as part of research into online habits and productivity.

Respondents were initially asked, ‘Do you consider yourself to be productive throughout the entire working day?’ to which 79% admitted that ‘no’ they weren’t. Just a fifth (21%) believed that ‘yes’ they were productive throughout the day.

The study then asked respondents, ‘If you had to state a figure, how long do you think you spend productively working during work hours on a daily basis?’ The results of this revealed the average answer to be ‘two hours and 53 minutes’ of actual productivity in the workplace across all respondents.

And whilst many respondents still considered themselves productive workers, they admitted that checking social media (47%), reading news websites (45%), discussing out-of-work activities with colleagues (38%) and making hot drinks (31%) took up big chunks of their time.

Is this an issue for bosses?

Whilst these findings may be shocking, they tell us more about productivity than procrastination. For many employees, short sharp bursts of productivity in between menial tasks or breaks garners positive results.

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The three-hour number may be low, but whether this is an issue, employers should be less concerned about time worked, and more about output. If you find that your employees are still outputting at a consistent level of work, then changing policies or structure to encourage more work may have the opposite effect.

And whilst it’s easy to judge employees based on time spent being productive, it may be the case that you identify with these findings, too.

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