Difference Between Efficiency and Productivity

HR & Leadership

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I once saw an article on how sleeping in the office was welcomed in Japan culture. Upon looking into it again today, I see it even has a name: Inemuri. Let’s look at efficiency and productivity through this.

The underlying logic is this: The person is working so hard that his sleeping at his desk is not a sign of laziness but dedication and hardwork. Looking at this, the first question in my mind is “What’s the goal?”.

So, what are the goals of a corporation – whether small or a global power – and connected to this its expectations from its employees? Aren’t the important elements commercial success, expense control, profit maximization, efficiency in business communication and processes, ability to take right strategic decisions, agility in change, and similar issues? It wouldn’t be wrong to say that these are the factors determining a company’s success. Therefore, we can even roof all these factors under one word and call it productivity. How much a commercial structure produces determines its success. (Of course, the product doesn’t always have to be concrete objects; determining an effective marketing strategy, for example, can be a product.)

If the success-determiner of a corporation is its productivity and efficiency, why can’t we say the same thing about the employees of the corporation without doubts and buts? Why is the success-determiner of an employee not his productivity but how long he works (so the level of activity)?

Sleep in Corporate Life

Although not in the same magnitude, we know the value judgements causing Inemuri in Japan culture exists in other business cultures as well.

I shared my opinion that asking questions is more important than answering when it comes to maturing and discovering the truth in corporate and private life. I think the situation here is a very good example for this. Instead of giving the most correct answers to the same questions, we urgently need to find new questions when talking about ‘Corporate Performance Evaluation’.

The Y generation – whom the people filling the higher ranks in corporations today find a bit out of place – has been aware of this for a long time. The main criteria when measuring work performance should be how much people produce, not how much time they spend working or how tired they get. I sadly see people who graduated from university after 2005 – and made technological flexibilities a part of their lives – spend the first couple of years of their business life trying to forget what they know and adapt to the current system.

We’re a part of the same structure in today’s system. There’s no one idling in corporations. There’s no tolerance for the idle, even. There are taboos in every culture. Idleness is the biggest taboo in corporate life. If an employee is being idle, this is perceived as his manager’s inability to delegate work, or the company’s inability to manage its workforce efficiently, or the person’s lack of motivation in succeeding. This naturally creates a pressure on the individuals and their managers to fill all free time with some activity. The result of this is a workforce in which every person is busier than the other; everyone doing different “activities”, looking hardworking. We are part of a culture that measures the success of employees with their level of business and tiredness.

Otsukaresama Deshita

Another term that I have learned recently is Otsukaresama Deshita. It’s use and meaning is very interesting. The Japanese use it at the end of the work hours to wish each other “good evening” or “good night”; while it actually means “you look very tired”. The logic underlying this saying is that the person is looking so tired that he must have made a lot of effort. He must have worked really hard and been very useful to his company. This is a wrong assumption.

The proof of the benefit a person provides for his company shouldn’t be how much he worked, sacrificed and burned himself out.

It should be rejected from the beginning that only money motivates people; that working is an unenjoyable burden, even an obligation. Working might be difficult, working a lot can become a torture at times; but working and producing something is actually the most enjoyable, meaningful and valuable activity. All the problems regarding motivation and work performance are about the person’s not knowing for what and why he works. It’s not finding meaning in their work and not working balanced hours. In summary, working, especially producing, are good things. What we need to do is attack and destroy the factors making them bad.

Sleeping during work hours is a taboo in many cultures, and yes; many don’t tell others that they look very tired to compliment them. But they are not that different. Haven’t you ever had a co-worker that proudly told you he left the office at midnight?

If we want happier workplaces and more loyal employees; let’s create work spaces that praise productivity, not activity.

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