Trying to find the balance between productivity, work and life

The productivity gap in the UK has come about by the measurement of output per worker compared with the output of other countries.

To be direct, we are woefully behind most of the major economies in the world (OECD Stats, accessed Apr 2021) and so as we come out of the International Pandemic and re-evaluate the world of work where there are greater calls for flexibility and work life balance, we have to consider how does this impact the older problem of the productivity gap?

The drive for flexible working

Where did the drive for flexible working come from? It hasn’t been just a product of the Pandemic; it has been on the HR agenda for several years:


With the advance of tech business has been able to be undertaken on the move a lot more – Blackberries, Mobiles, Laptops, Tablets and that little thing called the internet. All these developments allowed many workers the ability to work from anywhere from the office to the home, from a different office to a field in the middle of nowhere. All of a sudden, we were available 24 / 7 and we were willing volunteers thanks to this new-found wizardry.

The solution for working parents and carers?

These developments gave us opportunity to give people with caring responsibilities a fairer crack at having a career. Provided, the nature of the business allowed them to work remotely. However, this was a flexibility that didn’t really have the impetus that it does today after the Pandemic required all people, wherever possible to stay at home.

Health and wellbeing

We did actually start working 24 / 7 and 365 days a year, perhaps not full days but that phone or lap top may never have been too far away and I wonder how many would take it on holiday, and with that, how many arguments at home did this cause? Maybe how many interrupted Bank Holidays? It’s little wonder that the term Burn Out def: “ruin one’s health or become completely exhausted through overwork” became so much more common place. This new freedom had suddenly become a severe burden on our health and wellbeing.

The Pandemic

March 2020 found us receiving the stay-at-home instruction in an unprecedented move from the government in order to protect the NHS from the increasing demand. Within weeks, companies were establishing working from home practices for their people and a new way of working began for a large number of workers for around a year. Over that year employees and employers alike came to terms with a new way of working. Employers could see the benefit of staff working longer hours (often starting at the time they would usually leave home to travel to work and finishing when dinner was ready!). Employees started to enjoy the benefit of working in a more relaxed environment although there are draw backs to working from home:

Employers aren’t able to “see” what their people are doing

Employees are losing that connectivity with their colleagues and leaders

Employees are inadvertently flirting with the burn out problem

This is all on top of living through such unique and challenging times, it is no surprise that mental ill health was the other pandemic that we will be recovering from along with COVID 19.

What has this all got to do with productivity?

Well, the obvious answer is that if people are working longer hours, then surely, they must be producing more. However, the OECD stats show that this is simply not the case as the UK, on average, works longer hours. The, question then has to be

What does improve productivity?

Simply, happy workers work better. If I am “engaged”, feel respected, feel included and have some sort of influence over my work I will work harder and better and happier. Acas produced a productivity model with 7 pillars and well-designed work and high trust clearly speak to this theory.

Flexible working doesn’t just have to be working from home or part time work it can be whatever suits both parties. We as managers need to move away from the straight-jacket of “but that is how it was always done” and “how do I know they are not taking a liberty” to embracing all the opportunities and flexibility available to us.

  • It will motivate our people
  • Inspire more loyalty
  • Our people will be happier with their work life balance
  • Happy people – work harder
  • People with a good work-life balance tend to be healthier and therefore lose less days to illness
  • Happy people are more engaged and will want to be involved in helping you grow your business

Tip 1

Have sturdy and clear job descriptions

Tip 2

Ensure that success is measurable – it doesn’t always have to be numeric, but you want to be in a position that you know what success looks like

Tip 3

Forget the old way of working and embrace the new

Tip 4

If you are worried that you may not be getting value for wages for the role then go back to Tip 1 and revisit work design.

Final thought

What does it matter how the job gets done, when it gets done and how long does it take to get done, just as long as it gets done in the right way to the relevant deadlines to the appropriate quality?