Solving the productivity conundrum

Recently the new Uk Parliament published a paper on productivity  in an attempt to further raise the  importance of the subject with our politicians (who probably aren’t the most productive bunch themselves – but that’s another story). Jonty Bloom’s recent paper on the BBC website probably goes a long way to explaining how this actually happens.

However, a recent article I read on the Guardian website made me think about one of the  strangest paradoxes of the productivity debate, that is, why are the French more productive than us brits?

Having spent time working in France, albeit a while ago, I must admit that the lunches used to be fantastic! Additionally the pace of work seemed to be slower and more considered perhaps even more bureaucratic.  People seemed to stay in the same business for much longer and really enjoy their work.

Why could France be more productive than the UK?

I remember having a conversation with an HR Director of a business with virtually identical operations in the UK and France. When I asked them if the UK was less productive he concurred.

The next question had to be how?

The answer was one that flabbergasted me at the time. They said that because of the restrictive employment law regulations in France it was virtually impossible to dismiss a worker. Consequently this gave the worker confidence in the employer to such a degree that they were much more flexible in the workplace. The typical example was the French employee coming into work and doing many totally different jobs during the week without question. They were also far more willing to be trained to do different work and to pick up additional skills. The corresponding UK worker was much more suspicious when asked to do another job, even wondering if they were in the process of being “constructively dismissed”.

This struck me as very disappointing that in the UK business, the leadership was treated with suspicion and even distrust, whereas in France there was a trusting relationship which aided workplace flexibility and productivity.

Of course, I’m not espousing increased regulation in the workplace, however the challenge for Uk businesses must be to increase cooperation  and trust in the workplace to enhance flexibility and increase productivity. I know of a company on the South Coast which has done this to great effect. The majority of employees in the company have been trained to do a multitude of roles and jobs. This means that when they fulfil an order it can be done to dramatically reduced timescales, in essence, nobody waits for someone to do a task, if it needs doing it’s done there and then.

Therefore one of the answers to the conundrum seems to be meeting the challenge of creating a harmonious, trusting workplace and then reaping the rewards of increased productivity.


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