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Have we hit the productivity breaking point?

It seems that one of our most important economic indicators has been lost in a 24/7 business news cycle rightfully focused on recession and recovery.

Productivity.

As we await statistics on job creation and new home sales, and obsessively pore over the fourth number to the right of decimal point of the unemployment rate, the true mark of our labor force’s efficiency and excellence is becoming an afterthought.

But not for employers. From HR executives to hiring managers and backroom accountants crunching numbers with robots and abacuses, productivity metrics are being studied like never before. That’s because in a market awash in uncertainty, employers continue to juice more and more out of the same crop of employees. Many companies are still too nervous to pull the trigger on additional hires, even if the work is ripe for the pickin’. The numbers show, however, that at the end of the day this big squeeze on front line workers is producing more pulp than sweet success.

For the first time in five quarters, the nation’s productivity declined 1.8 percent, according to the Labor Department. Productivity – traditionally defined as output per labor hour – dipped as the average work week swelled to its largest chunk of change since 2006. In other words, we’re working more but doing less.

The writing is on the break room wall: America’s workforce is tired and tapped out.

Here are some ways to jump-start the productivity of your employees:

  • Hire new employees: Tee up the hourly hiring process to find fresh reinforcements to handle your increased labor needs. Even if you may not be ready to commit to increasing your workforce until tomorrow, you should start filling your candidate pipeline today.
  • Focus on wellness: Workplace wellness initiatives and rewards programs are that much more vital when the stress is high and the sleep is low. Try putting up new lights and a fresh coat of paint in the stairwells, and see what happens. Encourage group walks during lunch breaks. Look into employee smoking cessation programs.
  • Refresh your culture: Implement fun events and compassionate perks to inject your workplace with a  unique sense of community. You can plan an office mini golf tournament with a putter, a three-pack of balls and a little imagination.
  • Create work-life balance: Increase employee bandwidth with flexible work arrangements. It’s not realistic for cashiers to work from home. But by allowing multiple store locations within close proximity to “share” employees, it’s instantly easier to accommodate schedules.

You can find more proven ways to rejuvenate the productivity of your hourly workforce by checking out “Help Wanted & Help Found: The insiders’ guide to recruiting & hiring hourly workers.”

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Mike Ward is the managing editor for Snagajob. When he's not writing and editing content to support America's hourly workers and employers, he reviews movies, roots for losing sports teams and hangs out with his family and friends in the River City.

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