According to an ILO report from 2021, salaried employees in urban India work 55 hours a week on average. Only four nations – Gambia, Mongolia, Maldives, and Qatar reported higher figures. As reported quite lucidly by Vice.com, gruelling work hours are the norm in India.

And despite having one of the largest, most hard-working populations in the world, productivity levels in Indian companies are just one tenth to a quarter that of comparable businesses in other high-performing economies, according to McKinsey Global Institute.

To say that productivity improvement is a major concern for managements in India would be an understatement. In this post, we will look at the need for novel methods of improving productivity amidst sweeping changes in our understanding of the modern workplace.

Focus On Streamlining Collaboration And Communication

The Pomodoro Technique, Getting Things Done (GTD), and the Eisenhower Matrix are just a few of the time/task management approaches available to HR departments. For many managers, the quest for productivity improvement begins and ends here.

While these are all no doubt extremely useful techniques at an individual level, they cannot help to improve productivity at an organisational level if the systems which govern collaboration are fundamentally broken.

In the last two decades, the time spent on collaborative activities have increased by 50%, according to the Harvard Business Review. Meanwhile, the time employees spend in meetings and answering phones/emails/messages have also increased drastically to 80% of their day.

The result – employees have less time to focus on core tasks and productivity levels take a nosedive. Systemic changes are needed at the organisational level to address this. Lean expert Daniel Markovitz has the following productivity improvement techniques/suggestions:

  • Use task boards like Trello or Asana to distribute work and ensure that everyone knows their responsibilities as those of others.
  • Create specific communication protocols/channels for different situations – for instance, use separate channels for urgent and non-urgent requests.
  • Avoid the concentration of authority at the top – give individual workers more autonomy to make lower-risk decisions without the need of constant approval from above.

Address The Issue Of Employee Overwork And Burnout

Spending more hours in the office does not guarantee an increase in productivity. Over time, it actually undermines your company’s ability to boost workplace productivity. Spending 12+ hours on work leads to employee burnout, with devastating physical and mental consequences.

According to a McKinsey study on workplace mental health in Asia, employees in India led the charts in all work-related negative outcomes. Over 41% of Indian employees reported depression symptoms, while the regional average was 27%.

The prevalence of anxiety was at 40% among Indians, well above the regional average of 28%. According to the American Psychiatric Association, employee depression leads to high levels of absenteeism, low levels of engagement, higher medical costs, and a reduction of 35% in overall productivity.

Until you start paying attention to workplace mental health at your organisation, productivity improvement will remain a distant dream. Toxic workplaces, excessive demand for overtime and a general disregard for employee mental health should be your first targets. 

Move Towards A More Flexible Re-imagining Of Workplace Productivity

With the rise to prominence of remote and hybrid work arrangements during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the age-old concept of the physical office as the centre of productivity is being questioned in a big way.

If recent surveys are anything to go by, the majority of employees have an aversion to office-only work. In a 2022 HP global survey on attitudes towards various workplace arrangements, 92% favoured some form of hybrid work models over full-time office work.

Even more tellingly, 72% considered hybrid models as better for productivity. Hybrid models represent a compromise between fully remote and office only work arrangements. Its emergence as a popular alternative is due to the deeply ambivalent attitudes employees have towards remote work.

According to extensive research done by Microsoft, there is a “Hybrid Paradox” – while more employees want remote work options (73%), there is also a demand for in-person collaboration (67%).

The key takeaway here is that you cannot expect to gain the same productivity levels from everyone using a singular idea of the workplace. Some people are more productive in a remote or hybrid setting, while others do their best work in the company of their peers in the office.

The Not So Hidden Impact Of Longer Employee Tenures

Burnout, toxic workplace culture, lack of hybrid work options for better work-life balance – these are some of the most common reasons cited for the Great Resignation trend. Losing an employee to attrition inevitably leads to a productivity hit.

And when employee turnover hits double digits – it was 20% among Indian businesses in 2022 – you end up in a losing battle for productivity. Finding qualified replacement for employees who quit costs time and quite a lot of money (up to $1 trillion for US companies).

Meanwhile, your projects suffer as teams end up short-staffed, leading to further overwork among the remaining members. If left unaddressed, this can create a vicious circle that tanks employee productivity and makes your brand unattractive for talented candidates.

 And it gets worse – collaboration is very lopsided in most organisations, with a minority of high-performing individuals providing maximum value. According to this Harvard Business Review article on collaboration, up to one-third of the value comes from just 3% to 5% of your employees. And they also happen to the most overworked and at highest risk of burnout.

Replacing these individuals will not be easy. Ideally, you want your best talent to stay healthy, content, and engaged for maximum productivity. Removing dangerous stressors like overwork, poor work-life balance and lack of flexible work arrangements is as important as embracing various personal productivity improvement techniques.