Updated: Sep 4
Continuous Improvement is still considered synonymous with Lean and other famous initiatives that promised to solve all problems in productivity. But is that the whole story? Employees have been dubbed ‘low-hanging fruit’ as if personal performance is waiting to be plucked by a third party, rather than a serious case of self-worth and experiential capability needing humanistic appraisal.
In most industrial organisations, KPIs are seen as useful when it comes to condensing human endeavour into graphs. A Key Performance Indicator easily weighs in the highs and lows of attendance, accidents and quality - it’s more of a challenge to apply one to workplace behaviour, even though attitudes and symptomatic habits are critical contributors to corporate health.
Many industrial operations have no strategic continuous improvement policy whatsoever. Most modern-day decision makers have never heard of CSR! ESG has come in to fill the gap but demystifying the field of engagement and social responsibility is like a map lost in transit for a lot of CEOs.
Retorio estimated that toxic cultures in the US haemorrhage in excess of $46billion, with culture-related turnover costing $223billion according to SHRM. Generic reports on the price of personal problems were there in the British contingent, with an estimated twelve billion working days lost annually to anxiety and depression. ﾣ34.9 billion was the cost of related issues last year according to the Centre for Mental Health.
If the words 'mental health related productivity issues' come as a surprise when strung together, ask yourself if everyone in the workplace knows how you are feeling day to day. People dealing with severe inner turmoil often show nothing of it on the outside. They anticipate that the only thing to do is ‘get on with it’ regardless. Many employees get through each day under stress with no method of release nor recognition of their circumstance. Performance pays a heavy price, negativity spreads like wildfire.
In the search for a holy grail to deliver us from efficiency evils, there was solace in the sales pitch of process-led, data-driven initiatives that stormed the market as soon as CSR hit the light of day. Despite becoming famous as household names, children of Kaizen delivered nothing sustainable to the human resource yet led many to believe they'd answer the call to continuous improvement. With coloured belts and gold stars offered to champions of their contingency plans, the Analytical Army marched into the workplace demanding that everybody stand to attention. Exciting for a while, it was all set to backfire when the shop floor discovered there’s really nothing in it for them - flashy artefacts symbolic of devotion to someone else’s dream. While floodgates opened to Lean and 6S, sustainable roadmaps such as Corporate Social Responsibility were lost in the undertow, with ‘bluesky thinking’ and ‘dolphinism’ forgotten in the rush to keep up with hot fashion.
Alarming trends in responsibility resistance are now becoming apparent, as flexible working leads underground where ‘quiet quitters’ lie inert, ‘silent resignation’ ruling where positivity fears to tread. Industrial CEOs may feel immune to much of this, centred as they are on shop-floor operations and the on-site presence of personnel. Nevertheless, flexibility of thinking and an adaptive approach is going to be essential in winning battles yet to come, and it will become apparent that those companies investing holistically find themselves ahead of the exponential curve when it comes to productivity.
Personnel are keen to take the route to Positive Productivity once shown how to cultivate it, given the chance to experience constructive change while economic benefits grow alongside their efforts. Introducing emotional intelligence into the process of engagement swiftly builds a win-win situation; people are able to take their learning home and strengthen their relationships beyond the workplace, becoming more innovative in everyday life. The reward is a workplace to be proud of, recognised for its achievements in the community along with its customer service, a microcosm of positive engagement that people can look forward to being part of every day.
The light at the end of the tunnel glimmers with comforting knowledge that all companies are equipped to reach it, needing to consider mental welfare (or lack of it) with the same concern as physical injury if they are going to make headway in a social dynamic that now demands recognition of Self. ‘Mission’ must reflect a new set of parameters, pledging to a wider field of influence, making those ideals of environmental and cultural welfare a sustainable reality. For if these issue-laden baggages are left unattended, they will blow up out of all proportion to the modest investment that could have been made in advance. A tide is swelling under the feet of restless, pressured incumbents who collectively know when something is right and eventually will stand up to demand it, for their own sake and that of their families, with the full support of a changing marketplace.