The recent UK budget was characterised by yet another panic about low levels of productivity, a good opportunity for the usual pundits to trot out well-worn lines such as “it takes German workers to produce in four days what a UK worker produces in five” – the inference being that British workers are basically ‘lazy’.
In these debates the onus always seems to be on the workers with little or no scrutiny of management and leadership practices.
My recent research into UK companies undertaking so called transformational and digital change found that organisations are wedded to management practices that belong in the 1900’s. They are obsessed with accountability, control and compliance of ‘their people’ and ‘their teams’. Workers were fired for being ‘non-aligned’ or ‘resistant’ to change. Executives, consultants, HR practitioners and a seemingly endless supply of snake oil salesmen/women peddling the latest leadership or change solution, contributed to a fearful workforce and workplaces where institutionalised distrust, casual forms of covert (and in some cases) overt surveillance, and small-minded managerialism were endemic.
Into this hellish mix we can add management certainty that their decisions required no input from workers, lack of union representation, zero hours contracts, insecure employment, agency working and short termism, no wonder that there is a productivity gap.
This crisis of productivity is symptomatic of the way we have allowed our workplaces to be dominated by dark age management which ultimately diminishes all our chances of enjoying work that is both productive and satisfying.
This won’t change anytime soon unless we start to think about what drives productive and satisfying work. A move from the Dark Age to enlightened management is long overdue.