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Increase Your Personal Productivity Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

Two eye opening, sometimes contradictory Canadian reports came out last week. One, by human resources firm Watson Wyatt, shows we're increasingly stressed by workloads (not exactly a revelation). Yet the other, from Toronto Dominion Bank, proves our economic well-being has 'stagnated' since 1989. So here's the puzzle: How come we're working harder but our quality of life isn't rising? And what can we as individuals do about it?

Let's start with the first question. Is it true we're working more yet not getting ahead? According to Watson Wyatt's WorkCanada 2004/2005 survey, drawn from 3,000 employees across the country, 22% said the amount of work they're expected to do is 'unreasonable', up from 16 per cent two years ago.

The TD Bank report, In Search of Well-Being: Are Canadians Slipping Down The Economic Ladder?, concludes take-home pay of Canadians in the last 15 years has struck a concrete wall. One of the report's authors is Don Drummond, SVP and Chief Economist at the bank. He says higher taxes and fewer social services (due to paying for government debt) mean our 'economic well-being has not advanced for many years.'

There you have it. And we thought by working harder, then smarter--until we barely had a life beyond employment--would make most of us better off. In case you still weren't sure, this simply isn't true.

Both studies go on to cite productivity as the last best hope for Canadians. Watson Wyatt: ' employers must work harder to engage and enable employees to drive productivity and business results.' TD Bank: 'This adds urgency to the need to bolster Canada's lackluster productivity growth ' Even a professor I spoke to at the Schulich School of Business said 'In general, the only way people can benefit in our economy is to raise overall productivity.'

Which left me sort of baffled. And peeved. Especially since Liz Wright, in the Human Capital Group at Watson Wyatt, states flatly that 'Canadian workers are already stretched. How many times can you realistically demand that they do more?'

Professor Bernie Wolfe, the Shulich economics specialist I chatted with, provides some context. First of all, 'What we are really discussing here is creating a higher standard of living for everyone. This can be accomplished primarily by producing more per person.'

What's required, adds Wright, is for business to invest in better training, more efficient tools and methodologies, and incentives for performance. Drummond says that government incentives for companies to invest in modern plant and equipment is also essential.

Wolfe goes on to explains that if you turn out more of whatever it is you do per hour, you deserve higher pay per hour. 'Hence you have more discretionary income to purchase things that increase your satisfaction.' You can also use the extra pay to work less or retire sooner. These are the well-being and life quality dividends.

Nice notion. Only the Watson Wyatt survey point blank refutes it: Only 27 per cent of all respondents said there's a clear link between their job performance and pay. Just 27%! Even in the private sector it's ludicrously low at under two fifths.

Drummond adds yet another wrinkle. 'Historically, as productivity has risen, it puts employees with lower levels of skill and education at risk.' That's because to bump up output employers usually add automation, new technologies and more complicated work routines. In other words, unemployment can actually rise for displaced workers who can't adapt quickly, and when fewer, though more highly trained, employees are brought in as replacements.

Assuming there's funding for education. Drummond's report notes in the past eight years, 40% of increases in government spending went to healthcare. Education received just 14%, and even had cutbacks in two of those years. Makes you wonder where last year's federal surplus of $9B, and the Employment Insurance overage of $40B, are going to.

There are huge disconnects here, no doubt. Like when the Watson Wyatt survey says over three-quarters of employees understand their organizations' business goals, yet 40% still don't understand the steps they must take to achieve these objectives.

What appears to be happening is a game of broken telephone from the top of our country downward. Ralph Goodale, our current Minister of Finance, exhorts employers daily to 'improve Canadian competitiveness' and increase productivity. Business tells its executives the only way to survive in the new global marketplace is to boost output while keeping costs down. Then it starts to fall apart: Either managers are communicating poorly to staff; employees lack the tools or training to upshift; or the company fails to reward people for doing more.

Here then are some ways you can boost your own yield. Wright advises it's a 'shared responsibility' and suggests, for instance, you find out your boss's goals, then meet them while achieving overall company objectives. 'Make your boss an ally, let them take credit if necessary, and keep them informed of your contributions so they'll understand your worth,' she adds.

Wolfe and Drummond advocate furthering your education and building skills wherever possible. I recommend doing so by taking advantage of employer provided training, education allowances, trade publications, opportunities to work in other areas and roles within the company, secondments to other firms, calling Human Resources Canada and asking for funding programs to help re-train, and shelling out of your own pocket, if you absolutely have to, to get credentialized or become more marketable.

As for those disconnects? Many employers are painfully realizing that staff disaffection and skill gaps are hurting the bottom line. Still, it's pretty much up to us to take the initiative for now. I agree with Wright, who is probably a closet optimist like me, when she says we must have more realism and openness from all concerned parties. 'What we really need is a great, frank discussion, or maybe an arm wrestle, where we talk honestly about what has to be done. Because something has got to give--we simply cannot continue seeing deteriorating results every year.'

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