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France Is Beating England (And The Rest Of The UK) On Productivity

To get more productive, we need to stop what we are doing.

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To get more productive, we need to stop what we are doing.

Opinions

France Is Beating England (And The Rest Of The UK) On Productivity

To get more productive, we need to stop what we are doing.

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In France the typical working week is Monday to Thursday yet statistics reveal that the average worker produces the same amount of work output during this time frame as a British person does working Monday to Friday.

Ever since the last budget, the discussion and debate over why the UK is lagging behind France in terms of productivity, has been moving higher and higher up the corporate agenda.

Until more recently, much of the UK had spent many years gently teasing the French over their so-called laid back working culture but ironically, as the growing issue of poor productivity continues to escalate across many UK businesses, as a nation (and the once, traditionally strong economic powerhouse), we now have some tough questions to answer.

Where did we go wrong? Why are productivity levels at an all time low in this country and what can we do about it?

France vs. UK – 1-0

There is a growing belief that many of the issues that are being raised as being negative barriers within businesses today are often self-inflicted and have the potential to be solved providing we are serious about a shift in mind-set, culture and working practices.

Take this analogy if you will, if a business was a football team and its team weren’t operating well together, it would simply deem itself not to be ‘match fit’ and it would make necessary changes; it would not continue playing matches regardless.

In terms of business, now is the time to take steps to get back to full fitness. Right now the UK is losing one nil to France but there are lessons for us to learn here and with the right thinking in place we have the ability to turn this around.

Income inequality is of course still a major problem in this country and has an impact on productivity for sure, but this has long been true. The difference today is that there is also a marked decrease in trust in institutions, in government and in leadership.

Trust is and always has been, one of the most crucial elements in culture and is also the foundation stone for creating strong cultures that drive success. If real trust exists within a workforce, what comes with it is an unquestionable belief in the surrounding support network, a comfort that there is always someone to fall back on, someone who cares.

Have we shot ourselves in the foot?

The fact is if trust falls, then cultures will always be weak. This is true not just for the UK but across the globe too.

For the UK though, there lies a bigger problem, right now the headlines surrounding work-life balance and the growing reports of increased mental illness and depression means that this has become a far greater issue today than it has ever been and the impact on family life has, as a result, come under growing pressure.

There is simply no time in the current working culture to enjoy a full and enriched family life despite the fact that a strong family culture at home in turn, drives good work cultures. It’s no secret with its traditionally long holiday periods that in France, there is far greater time spent with family.

This begs a poignant question - have the long working hours and the intense, pressurised working cultures that we have developed in the UK finally taken their toll? Has the UK actually shot itself in the foot?

Take the average workers lunch break in this country, which is a measly 27 minutes long - how can we truly expect people to be productive if they have so little time available to refresh and recharge during the working day?

In France, lunch is a very important part of the day both from a working and cultural perspective. As a nation the French do take longer breaks during the working day to relax and to refresh their minds.

The fuel needed for greater productivity

Is it therefore fair to assume that workers are simply more relaxed in France? Arguably being given the freedoms to take much needed breaks during the working day and to spend more time with family and loved ones makes for a happier workforce and one that feels appreciated.

It stands to reason that nurturing the right behaviours in the workplace from the outset should help to create teams that operate in a positive and more productive culture.

Could France’s strong development of team culture and its customer centric approach have provided the fuel for stable and strong levels of productivity and is there a correlation to be drawn with the UK and its rise of pressure and more aggressive approach to business?

For businesses to operate successfully and profitably teams need to have trust and they need to feel secure and happy in their work.  On the same token, they also need to feel free to challenge themselves, to take risks and to fail.

This increased focus in the UK on bottom line, targets and process simply exacerbates the problem with productivity levels especially when most of the emerging leaders today are far more risk averse and aren’t often given the accountability or the responsibility they might have been given 20 years ago in the same role.

Are we neglecting talent?

Talk to most CEOs today and certainly Chairpersons and they will have held positions of real responsibility in their twenties. Many will be have been in "area" roles by the age of just 25. Today this would be seen as reckless.

Yet if they have the talent to secure a role, surely they have the potential to be good enough for it? Job satisfaction is also about fulfilling a desire to learn, to achieve and to grow. So the question then, is whether the UK is developing its talent well enough to breed greater levels of productivity?

By making positive differences in mind-set, culture and working practices the UK can create a service culture again, which in turn increases productivity. Only at this point can the UK can start to compete with France again and perhaps even overtake.

Chris Sheppardson is CEO of EP Insights.

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France Is Beating England (And The Rest Of The UK) On Productivity

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