The UK has a productivity shortfall compared with other developed countries that will not go away. Despite working longer hours than many of our continental cousins, there’s an estimated productivity gap of as much as 20 or 30 percent.
Why? Well, that’s a question some of the country’s leading economic minds are trying to solve, but simply put, we’re working harder and not smarter. With Brexit on the horizon, it’s more important than ever that we find new ways to compete on the global stage, and creating a more dynamic and productive labour force will be a key part of that.
Sweden has long been the envy of much of Europe with its high levels of worker productivity, and recently, the Swedish government even trialled six-hour working days. So, just what can we learn from Sweden to fix the UK’s enduring productivity puzzle and boost the morale of employees?
Optimisation, not maximisation
An expression that’s common in Sweden is ‘lagom’, which means ‘just the right amount’. That is at the core of the Swedish approach to productivity and business culture. Swedish workers are encouraged to do what needs to be done and to do it well, rather than taking on unnecessary work or doing multiple jobs at the same time.
Rather than being a desirable attribute for an employee, in Sweden multi-tasking is viewed more negatively as an inability to prioritise effectively. Similarly, rather than working longer hours, it is ingrained into business culture that employees should leave work on time. Failure to do so is seen as an indication of poor planning and time management.
Short, regular breaks win the day
Swedish employers have learned that their employees are much happier and perform better if they’re given time during the day to take a break. That has given rise to the ‘fika’ break in Swedish businesses, which is often translated as ‘a coffee and cake break’. This is a time where colleagues can take a break, eat a snack and relax with their colleagues away from their desks. They then return to work revitalised and ready for the rest of the day.
Although that may seem like much too simple a solution to a very complicated problem, it’s much more effective to work at 80 percent productivity for 90 percent of the day, rather than working at 60 percent for the whole day.
Embrace workplace flexibility
There has been a huge shift in the attitudes of UK employers towards workplace flexibility over the last couple of years. That’s perhaps not surprising given that workers who are given the option of flexible working are taking less time off and working more productively. However, there’s still a long way to go to catch up with the Swedes.
Sweden ranks among the world’s leading countries for work-life balance, with flexible working being the norm rather than the exception. The key is that work never comes before home-life priorities, and that helps to create a happy and efficient workforce.
Offering flexibility to employees doesn’t have to be difficult. Given the tools and technology employers have at their disposal, creating a schedule that works for everyone can be easily achieved, helping to save time, reduce costs, increase happiness and, ultimately, solve the UK’s enduring productivity puzzle.
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