Australians more productive than 12 months ago:
now wasting 15 minutes less time at work everyday

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  • National productivity average up, wasted time down in Aussie workplaces
  • Majority of Australians working smarter with more than four in five workers (83%) striving to increase productivity
  • 14% of wasted time at work still costs organisations about $87 billion in wages1 per annum

Monday, 12 November 2012 — Australian workers are more productive and wasting 4% less time at work than 12 months ago, with the average amount of time wasted falling from 18% to 14% since October 2011.

Based on the average work week, Australians are now spending 15 minutes more each day on work that adds real value to their organisations and wasting less time on activities such as waiting for approval from others, non-critical emails, waiting for technology and too many meetings, according to EY’s latest benchmark survey.

The third six-monthly EY Australian Productivity Pulse™ found the level of productivity in workplaces had lifted the ‘national productivity average’ from 7.25 from to 7.58 (based on a ten point scale) in the past six months. Nearly two in five (38%) workers reported an increase in their productivity compared to six months ago.

EY Oceania Advisory Leader Neil Plumridge said the uplift in productivity and decrease in waste at work could partly be attributed to Australian workers and their organisations’ response to the challenges of a slowing economy.

Mr Plumridge said overall this was a promising trend and consistent with the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data that showed a stronger rate of productivity growth than seen in many years2.

“In other words, we’re producing more from the same amount of hours worked than 12 months ago. While it mightn’t sound like a lot, this is indeed a significant change in a short period given we’ve been operating in a declining productivity environment for the past decade or so,” Mr Plumridge said.

“An extra 15 minutes of productive time day every day at work can mean a great deal to individuals as well as the organisations they work for – contributing to the bottom line but also giving workers a sense of self-fulfilment.

“However, 14% wasted time every day still costs organisations an estimated $87 billion in wages per annum. While we have turned a corner, there is still a long road ahead for many Australian organisations to become truly globally competitive in the productivity stakes.

“Recently we have seen examples of managers and executives across most industries taking a renewed focus on productivity. The long term winners will be the organisations where managers and workers work together to tackle productivity in areas such as organisational architecture, people management, technology and capital, and innovation.”

The EY Australian Productivity Pulse™ measures Australian workers’ views about their organisation’s and their own individual productivity. It is based on a survey of more than 2,100 employees spanning seven industries and from all levels within organisations across both the private and public sectors.

“Australians have always prided themselves on ‘doing their bit’ and are known for their work ethic. This tells us that in the face of less than ideal conditions, Australians are willing to drive labour productivity forward and just ‘get on with the job’,” Mr Plumridge said.

Mr Plumridge said Australian workers were proactively trying to increase their own productivity through a range of strategies, including: reducing errors (60%), better time planning (58%) and improved multi-tasking (51%).

“Similar to our findings six months ago when the economy really started showing signs of slowing, the more productive workers felt more secure in their roles within the current environment compared to workers at the other end of the scale (‘Lost Souls’) who felt the least stable with two in five (42%) feeling insecure in their current role.”

Mr Plumridge said it was clear the majority of Australians were working ‘smarter’ with more than four in five workers (83%) striving to increase productivity, however fewer than two in five (38%) actually achieved these improvements.

The key activities contributing to wasted time at work were: Waiting for approval from others (18%); non-critical emails (12%); taking care of personal matters (11%); technology waiting time (10%); meetings (10%); doing things manually that could be automated (10%); social media only accounted for 7%.

The increase in productivity was driven by a jump in workers moving up the Australian Productivity Scale™ and rating their productivity eight or nine out of ten. The Scale profiles Australian workers into four groups from ‘highly productive’ through to ‘unproductive’ with two categories of workers above the national average of 7.58 on a 10-point scale and two below.

Mr Plumridge said more than 60% of Australians believe productivity is the responsibility of individual employees – not the CEO or line managers.

“People clearly feel that being productive is the responsibility of individual workers. They feel strongly that they have power over their own productivity levels,” Mr Plumridge said.

“This shows us once again that productivity is the sum of all its parts.”

Mr Plumridge said although workers felt the responsibility of increased productivity lay on the shoulders of all individuals in a workplace, they also felt that the most significant beneficiary of improved worker productivity was the organisation rather than the individual.

The benchmark survey also revealed that flexibility in the workplace continued to be of importance especially in light of increasing evidence that Australians are feeling disempowered and out of control3.

“Workers who feel they have flexibility in their roles are more productive. They are actively trying to increase their own productivity, more likely to be working at their lifetime best, less likely to want to leave their organisation and are more satisfied.”

Key findings of Wave 3 of the Australian Productivity Pulse™ include:

  • Consistent with previous findings, the importance of productivity increases with age. Sixty five percent of 55-64 year olds considered productivity to be extremely important, in contrast to only 32% of 20-24 year olds.
  • 14 per cent of people are definitely looking to leave their jobs in the next 12 months, with a further 14% considering it.
  • Currently, only half the workforce believes their organisations are “very good” or “quite good” at communicating about productivity.
  • When productivity was communicated well workers were more productive and more satisfied; in fact, 91% of people in organisations where this was done well were trying to increase their own productivity – in contrast to 76% in organisations where productivity communication was poor.
  • In organisations where productivity was communicated well, 43% of the workforce were ‘very satisfied’ in their job, compared to only 5% in organisations where productivity communication was considered poor.

“The survey tells us in no uncertain terms that better communications from organisations to their employees prevents a decline in productivity. And there is also a profound relationship between good communications, satisfied workers and productivity.

“This is a powerful piece of information for organisations who mightn’t be communicating their productivity goals and how they’re tracking meaningfully to their employees. The findings clearly suggest that getting communications right will start paying dividends in terms of productivity,” Mr Plumridge said.

Other key findings of the Australian Productivity Pulse

With a growing proportion of Australian workers ranking themselves in the top two groups, the EY Worker Productivity Scale™ identified the following key characteristics of the four groups:

  1. “Super Achievers” - productive ranking of 9 -10 (32% of workforce): Workers in this ‘highly productive’ group are most likely to be satisfied with their jobs and are highly motivated. They believe their skills are well utilised. Personal productivity is extremely important to them. Only 9% of their day is wasted.
  2. “Solid Contributors” - productivity ranking of 7-8 (49% of the workforce): While productive, this group wastes 15% of their day and more time than average on IT issues, social media and sending and replying to emails. They are also almost twice as likely as Super Achievers to spend time doing manually what could have been automated.
  3. “Patchy Participants” - productivity ranking of 5- 6 (14% of workforce): This ‘less than productive’ group is characterised by inertia and is responsible for most of Australia’s workplace wastage, wasting 16% of their day. Seventeen percent of this group take 1-2 weeks’ sick leave. Despite consisting of Australia’s least satisfied or motivated workers, Patchy Participants are also the least likely to be planning to leave their current organisation.
  4. “Lost Souls” - productivity ranking of 1-4: (5% of the workforce). The ‘unproductive’ group wastes 21% of the working day. This group is the least likely to have flexible working conditions. While 42% have not taken sick leave, 3% of this group have taken three months or more off due to sick leave. One in four is planning to leave their organisation.

Most productive industries

Based on their workers’ average ranking on the EY Productivity Scale™, Healthcare and Social Assistance again lead the charge, followed by:

  1. Healthcare and Social Assistance (1) (Wave 2 ranking)
  2. Manufacturing (5)
  3. All other industries (including Transportation) (3)
  4. Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (2)
  5. Mining (Resources) (7)
  6. Trade (Retail & Wholesale) (4)
  7. Financial and Insurance Services (6)
  • The retail and wholesale trade (55%) and finance and insurance (53%) industries were seen as doing the best job at communicating productivity to workers, with the professional, scientific and technical sector performing worst in this measure (42%).
  • One in four Australian workers didn’t know whether productivity was measured in their organisation; while 31% said their organisation doesn’t measure it at all. Industries most likely to measure productivity were: finance & insurance (63%), mining (61%) and manufacturing (57%).

Differences by geography

Organisations in metropolitan locations were more likely to measure productivity (48%) than those in the regions (40%). However, regional workers considered personal productivity to be more important than metro workers (54% vs 43%). Across the states and territories:

  • Tasmania is again the most productive state as ranked by its workers (8.09), followed by South Australia (7.89), Queensland (7.67), Victoria (7.65), Western Australia (7.48) and New South Wales (7.43).
  • SA recorded the least amount of working hours (30.7% of the day) and WA the longest (33.8% of the day).
  • Organisations communications about productivity were considered worst in VIC and best in SA.
  • Workers in QLD and WA were more motivated by job security than other states.

1Based on Australia’s annual wage bill of approximately $630bn (ABS Labour Employment and ABS Average Weekly Earnings September 2012), total organisational productivity wastage can be valued at $87bn per annum.
2ABS Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product June 2012 and Westpac-Melbourne Institute Leading Index October 2012
3 AustraliaSCAN – 20-year Australian longitudinal study which identifies key social trends and measures culture change (QANTUM)

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Contact details:

Katherine Rellos
EY Australia
Tel: +61 3 9288 8322 or 0411 245 099