Prospect is one of a small number of unions which have joined together to commission a unique piece of research from the institute on workers’ perceptions of productivity. Forming part of a wider piece of work to be published in early summer, the survey findings were presented at the recent Unions 21 conference.
Presenting the background to the research, the think-tank’s research associate Sarah Welfare told the DMLG that government plans to tackle the productivity puzzle had so far ignored issues such as workforce involvement, better pay and conditions and productivity bargaining. The Smith Institute was therefore looking to answer three key questions as part of its research, she said: What does workplace productivity mean? What are the key factors for improving productivity in the workplace? How can employees and their representatives best help meet productivity?
Many DMLG members voiced concerns that productivity – to the extent that it was seen as an issue in the workplace – was framed in terms of reducing headcount and other short-term cost saving measures, at the expensive of other productivity considerations such as the quality of work. And the example of former staff being reemployed as far more expensive consultants was given to emphasise the contradictory nature of some cost-cutting measures.
Members also complained that skills were in decline as little thought was given to transferring skills from more experienced staff to newer members of the workforce. Skills were therefore often lost as those staff retired or left. Reasons given included a decline in excess capacity and flexibility in the workplace that in the past allowed for informal training and “buddying up”. But members also identified a lack of standardised practices for skills transfer such as job “handovers”. It was also noted that the length of apprenticeships had declined.
Another theme was the role morale could play in productivity and how this was currently being eroded civil service performance management and other forms of heavy monitoring.
The meeting did however hear of some specific examples of change management at Babcock’s Rosyth facility that were presented as being positive, both in terms of employee acceptance and increased productivity.
These related to simple consultant-led changes to work taking place on one of the new QE class aircraft carriers to maximise time on the job. Among these were moving vending machines and toilets closer to the deck where work was taking place as well as ensuring materials were available when they were needed.