Philip Hammond sparked backlash late last year when he made the outrageous claim that low productivity in the UK was due to disabled individuals, commenting that high levels of engagement in the workforce of disabled people “may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.” However, a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), on organisational definitions of talent found that individuals with a disability were, in fact, the highest scoring group. Compared with non-disabled individuals, those with a disability marked between one and ten on the categories of “positive attitude to work” (7.4) and “bringing new and innovative ideas to the workforce” (6.4) proving Hammond’s statement to be far from true. In addition, a Dupoint study recently revealed that 92 per cent of those with a disability were rated average or better by their employers. Amongst non-disabled people, this figure stood slightly lower at 90 per cent.

The problems of workforce productivity are high on the agenda for business executives and HR leaders today, and quite rightly so. With recent reports from the office for budget responsibility (OBR) predicting that productivity levels could drop lower by 2019, companies are gathering to strategise plans to prevent this becoming a reality. But this is not new news. We have seen and heard many different fatalistic views on productivity within the workplace and for more than a decade organisations have experienced large declines in the levels of output per worker, all of which amount to hefty costs.

So where is it going wrong? Arguably the companies losing out are those which employ people in the wrong position, with skill sets not accurately matching business needs. Historically, some organisations have encountered the problem of struggling to source, attract and retain the right individuals and maintain employee engagement. Without these factors working cohesively, a productive work environment is much harder to sustain. Employers are increasingly realising the value of putting in place systems and processes to address these challenges.   

This shifting tide may also help explain why we are now sitting on the brink of productivity breakthrough, with data revealing figures for 2017 in Q3 as the biggest improvement in output per hour worked for six years, at 0.9 per cent growth. This doesn’t mean people are working harder, just more efficiently. For example, if employees choose to work longer hours, measured productivity worsens as they produce less per hour.

And at a time when businesses are experiencing a boom in advanced technology and artificial intelligence (AI) with new innovations growing and spreading around the business world, productivity is also likely to rise. With new digital tools designed to increase workplace efficiency, this frees up a worker’s time and will hopefully drive an increase in output.

The answer to increasing productivity lies entrenched in HR teams focusing on employee engagement to retain and motivate staff. Building workforce skills and training schemes are also a key way of improving work outputs per hour and whether an employee has a disability or not, providing the right tools to do the job is fundamental. Equipping employees with the necessary working material and resources to carry out the job will not only help them in achieving KPIs and working efficiently but it is also likely to increase their capability and confidence in the role from the start. Additionally, while gadgets and devices may enhance employee satisfaction and the role itself, the right resources for new staff also include a pivotal human element. It is the responsibility of an organisation to ensure staff feel well equipped, welcomed and supported, and with businesses starting to turn their attention to the importance of employee morale, growth in business productivity should in turn follow.

We aren’t ready or willing to admit defeat. Despite ongoing perceptions in the media, there is evidence leaning towards a rise in labour outputs, especially with the help of modern advancements and HR teams working towards a shared goal. While the reasons for low productivity are more complex than some commentators would have us believe, this is not permanent and nothing that can’t be fixed.

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