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When productive things don’t take off

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When productive things don’t take off

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I wrote recently about the drooping productivity levels we’re currently experiencing in Britain, with levels falling faster than at any period since World War 2.  In such an environment, you would imagine any attempts to improve that rather dismal situation would be tried, especially if those methods are relatively cost effective.

There are some however that seem unlikely ever to gain critical mass, despite the plentiful evidence supporting them.  Sleep for instance is one such productivity booster that isn’t taking off.  There have been a raft of studies highlighting the productivity gains we can achieve by having a nap during the work day.  A Harvard study for instance showed that pilots improved their performance by 16% after a nap, compared to a 34% slump in performance without one.

Yet few organizations have advocated employees taking a nap to boost their performance.  Exercise is another one of those productivity boosters that hasn’t really moved past the quirky stage.  Researchers at Carlston School of Management recently tested the impact of equipping desks with treadmills (or treadmills with desks) so that employees could stroll through their day at up to 2 miles per hour.

The employees were studied for one year, with productivity rising almost across the board.  Production measures were derived from employee and supervisor surveys of quantity of performance, quality of performance, and quality of interaction with co-workers. An overall performance measure was on a 10-point scale.

“For the duration of the study, productivity increased by close to a point,” the researcher says. “That’s a substantial increase.” They call the outcome of the study a win-win situation. “It’s a health-improving option that costs very little. I think there will be an increasing number of employers who will invest $1,000 or $2,000 in outfitting a persons’ workstation,” they say. “The employer benefits from the employee being active and healthy and more smart because more blood is flowing to the brain.”

Yet, it’s probably fair to say that the treadmill desk, whilst being technologically possible for a while now, will not be entering our offices en masse any time soon.

McKinsey famously predicted that there is something akin to $1 trillion of productivity value sitting unlocked through the unsuccessful usage of social collaboration tools.  Suffice to say, the reasons for not becoming more social are no doubt much greater and more ingrained than those behind the failure to adopt power naps or treadmill desks, but it does nevertheless underline that many of our managerial decisions are often far from logical or rational.

What all three things have in common however are a broad shift away from how things are normally done.  As I argue in my 8 step guide to building a social workplace, when you’re attempting to change behaviours, you need to build a system that encourages and supports those behaviours.  Our competitive environments that value inputs rather than outputs is hampering the uptake of collaboration just as much as it is power naps.  Change the system and the behaviours will follow suit.

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