North American employees are proving to be among the most economically resilient in the world, but there is a limit to how hard employers can push them.
- Operational productivity in North America has consistently increased over the past 12 to 24 months, according to workforce software company ActiveOps.
- Productivity has increased from 40% to 55%, based on the company’s internal operational performance measurements.
- This resilience has helped the U.S. reduce recession risks and protect the job market amid high inflation and high-interest rates.
- This positive trend of high productivity has, unfortunately, paired with similarly high rates of worker burnout, layoffs, and stress, in addition to reduced quality customer service.
- The positive trend has not been reflected in other countries in Europe and Asia.
Why It’s Important
The strength of the post-COVID-19 economy has helped mask many of the ongoing challenges facing the modern workforce, but many of them bubbled up into the mainstream over the past year. “Quiet quitting” and “the Great Resignation” became nationally-feared buzzwords as employers began to notice employees turning in less effort or leaving for greener pastures. The prevalence of remote-work jobs gave workers more freedom than ever, as large companies did everything they could to crack down on employees outside the office.
“Quiet quitting” and “the Great Resignation” remain serious problems, as worker burnout and stress continue to harm the workforce amid mass employee layoffs in the tech industry, recession fears, a stressful housing market, and inflating prices.
Spencer O’Leary is the CEO of ActiveOps. He tells Leaders Media that his company views productivity metrics as a series of levers that affect one another. It is possible to force staff to be more productive, but this comes at the cost of greater stress, poor health, and decreased customer service. A proper application of operational performance—ActiveOp’s basic measure of productivity—requires using machine-based solutions to evaluate and balance the needs of a large workforce.
“I was speaking to the senior executive of a large bank recently. She said in 2023, the cost of sickness is significantly higher than underproductivity. Pushing productivity appears to be feeding into the Great Resignation,” he says.
O’Leary says that one of the most important factors in the recent increase of productivity has been the rise in remote work. Workforces—particularly in businesses like banking, insurance, and healthcare—have proven to be more productive working from home. The downside of this has been that increased productivity has come at the expense of creativity, agility, and overall well-being. Working from home is stifled many businesses’ operational performance by limiting water cooler conversation and collaboration.
Every business is different, and some handle remote work better than others. Moreso than allowing every job to be remote or requiring everyone to return to the office, O’Leary says managers must make their policies and management styles decisive and clear. Companies in the UK and Ireland, for instance, have reportedly suffered because their remote work strategies are indecisive.
“Most American businesses have been decisive with their plans and intentions. They’re definitive in their remote and office strategies. Asian and European businesses still haven’t worked things out. Any uncertainty in the workplace creates chaos. Being decisive and clear with employees helps reduce employees, tells them what they’re doing, and allows them to perform well,” he says.
This is not an excuse for a domineering approach to management, as many stories have come out in the past year of inappropriate ways managers have attempted to remain in control of staff, with heavy worker surveillance and supervision. Trust is an important factor in allowing managers to lead their staff. The key is balance, using the right data and information, and clearly communicating strategies to employees.