Britain’s productivity illness: prevention, not cure

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Productivity illness: prevention, not cure. It’s worth a fortune

Looming larger than ever with the impending Budget and Brexit, Britain’s productivity illness is not going away soon.

Or is it?

It is significant that our present productivity handicap is referred to as an illness – and in the same breath something to accelerate out of, usually by throwing  money at it.

Prevent illness, or make super-well?

Quite how to accelerate with an illness is not explained. Even top performers like Jessica Ennis–Hill are unlikely to surge ahead in the grip of a common cold or flu.

But illness is right, and in a word explains what is wrong with our productivity.

It’s less than it should be.

Not surprising when you consider our track record of workplace performance. Three years ago, business experts PwC calculated the national cost of absences due to illness at £29 billion a year. A figure that assumed an average of 6 days off sick for every earner in the country.

Not chicken feed.

But it pales into insignificance alongside the cost of presenteeism or being unwell at work – calculated in a GCC report (now Virgin Pulse) at 10 times absenteeism or £290 billion.

Together that’s £319 billion, substantially more than any of the figures  promised by government to boost R&D of super-performers in the high-tech/AI sector – side-stepping and ignoring also-rans like retail and hospitality.

£319 billion on illness. Isn’t it worth doing something about fixing that – instead of chasing pie in the sky dreams?

Sloppy hygiene

Mind you, it’s not surprising that such illness is associated with work. Look around, and our workplace standards of protection against germs are truly frightening.

Small wonder that on average we’re each of us feeling less than ourselves at work for 57.5 days a year, or nearly three working months. Or closer to home, we all have some kind of ailment giving us grief roughly every three days.

We never think about it of course, because we can’t see germs – too microscopically small. We just accept that not being well is par for the course – and business does too. As Churchill, or was it Teddy Roosevelt (?) said, “Most of the world’s work is done by people who don’t feel very well.”

And yes, they’re ill all right. Because we can’t see germs, we don’t think we’re dirty. And alongside sloppy hygiene in the workplace, our personal standards are even worse.

All of which means we’re sitting at our desks waiting for illness to happen.

Sub-standard capability

And what is the quality of work we’re capable of, feeling like that?

Some bug we picked up at the office does our head in so we’re not able to concentrate. Which means it’s done wrong and has to be done again. Or done wrong and not picked up, to let the fox loose among the chickens later on down the line.

Three working months we’re out of it.

Which means for every twelve months we get paid, we’re only delivering nine.

That’s productivity illness all right. And why retail and hospitality bear the brunt. Higher exposure to other people, more physical interchange and contact with commonly touched objects. More germs.

So here’s the thing.

Get rid of the germs and our productivity illness goes away. It might still be less than it should – but at least it won’t be held back. And three months of our salaries won’t be going to waste paying for us to be out of it.

Better still, get rid of the germs before we’re exposed to them.

Prevention, not cure.

And more easily achievable than we might ever imagine.

For starters, what health protection if any is in most workplaces right now?

You’re right, it’s zero.

A nightly hit teams comes in and vacuums the floors, empties the rubbish bins and wipes down the desks with a damp rag. And that’s your lot!

Now look down the back of your computer or under the keyboard. Hold your phone up to the light and look at the touchscreen.

Dust bunnies and crumbs. Smears and finger marks. Leftover detritus from chicken tikka marsala, birthday cake, biscuit crumbs and dirt off laptops picked up off the floor in the Underground. And all of it untouched since your organisation moved into the building five years ago.

Poor productivity: the antidote

So how to fix it?

Start off with putting antibacterial wipes or gel on every desk first thing in the morning. Not so easy to forget washing hands when there’s an alternative right in your face.

Next, fumigate the place.

Well, not quite as drastic as that – and a lot safer. Actually to sterilise the place, mist it up with a mild but effective germ-killing biocide that spreads everywhere – through the air, across every surface, into every nook and cranny, you name it.

Result, no germs – no illnesses for anyone to catch. No more underperforming feeling like death.

Twelve months’ productivity instead of nine – UP BY A THIRD.

Do that every day and productivity illness becomes a thing of the past.

Better than G7 countries

So things take one day longer each week to do in Britain than in other G7 countries?

Not any more.

Up by a third means six days are now four. One day LESS to do in Britain than in other G7 countries.

How about it, all you business eggheads?

Up for a little prevention not cure?

Come on people, there’s £319 billion in it for you.