Finance

EY Australian Productivity Pulse: NSW workers most productive, but businesses missing out on “latent potential”

Yolanda Redrup /

New South Wales employees are driving an increase in the nation’s productivity, as the nation’s most populated state reaps the benefits of the recent economic uplift.

EY’s latest Australian Productivity Pulse released this morning found in the past six months Australia’s productivity increased from 7.5 to 7.7 on a 10 point scale.

But while productivity has lifted slightly, wastage has not improved.

The report found workers on average continue to waste 11% of their day, equating to approximately 50 minutes, and there is a growing gap between the most productive and least productive employees.

Workers who achieve the most in a day waste approximately 1.5 hours less than those who are the least productive. This figure has increased by 30 minutes in the past year.

EY Oceania advisory leader Neil Plumridge told SmartCompany this amount of time is significant, especially when considering Australia’s workforce of more than 11 million people.

“What we’ve got is a distributed workforce where there is a group operating at the high-end doing the heavy lifting and they’re known as the ‘Super Achievers’,” he says.

“Then there is a group at the bottom called the ‘Lost Souls’ and these people are not without skill, but they’re lost in their organisations. They’re either in the wrong job, or there is something which means they’ve become disengaged and there could be something stressful going on in their personal lives.”

Plumridge says the ‘Lost Souls’ have “latent potential”, which if harnessed by workplaces would significantly boost an organisation.

“If this can be tapped there is huge potential for every organisation, but there are other things also impacting productivity such as organisational structure and how an organisation is wired,” he says.

“In the public sector for example there is a real challenge because some organisations are way too complex… it can take dozens of people to get projects or funding approved. Use of technology is another area where businesses often struggle to implement the technology advancements as planned.”

These issues cause workers to have to overcome delays when trying to complete their work and can be a source of frustration, leading to workplace disengagement.

The report found fewer than one in four public and private sector workers believed their managers encouraged them to go above and beyond in their role.

However Plumridge says improving productivity is a manager’s responsibility.

“Over the past few years there has been a short-term culture coming into business operating paradigms,” he says.

“People are now focused on delivering the results for today and tomorrow, rather than thinking long-term, and there is limited and reduced aspiration to perform at a higher level.”

Plumridge says in general businesses have underperformed in the past few years resulting in missed budgets, so now managers are working to manage, rather than exceed expectations.

To enhance productivity in the workplace managers need to firstly talk about it in simple terms, set more performance targets and encourage all employees to think of ways to do tasks faster.

“It can come down to an average worker, say a call centre operator, who is used to taking 10 calls an hour, but if you think about it you could come up with a way for him to make 11 calls an hour,” Plumridge says.

“The first thing is to talk about it in common language… if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old you don’t know what you’re talking about. The next thing is to start measuring targets at granular levels as people perform better when things are measured.”

Plumridge says new ideas workplaces could implement to boost productivity include giving staff key cards to access the office on weekends, reducing the monthly reports from 30 to three pages and encouraging staff just to talk, rather than prepare a PowerPoint when they’re giving presentations.

EY also found the productivity of workers varied between states.

In NSW, worker productivity has strengthened all year, while in South Australia there has been a downward trend since August 2012.

“In NSW there have been improvements in construction and reforms of the public sector have been effective, plus they’ve started to benefit from the increase in general business and consumer confidence too,” Plumridge says.

“The challenge in South Australia has been to grow their way out of challenging times and there has been very little economic growth.”

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