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U.S. worker productivity down to levels seen in 1947

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Posted at 10:07 AM, Nov 16, 2022

DENVER, Colo. — Productivity in the workforce has slowed down to levels seen almost 100 years ago, and long term, this could have big consequences for the economy.

You probably felt that surge of productivity at your own job at the beginning of the pandemic. We all stopped commuting and had extra time—time that most of us ended up using to work. Now, the latest reports show that the extra effort is shrinking, and employees are doing less today than they did in 2020.

“If you're running a mile-long race and you sprint the first half, in the second half, most of us are going to have to slow down and catch our breath,” said Vanderbilt University Economics Professor Adam Blandin.

Blandin said right now, the American workforce is catching its breath. The productivity we saw at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was a one-time burst that couldn’t be sustained.

“I personally feel like the last few years have been exhausting, and I know a lot of my friends and colleagues feel the same way,” said Blandin. That feeling is reflected in our economy.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics creates a productivity score for the country based on how many products companies make—and the hours employees work.

Levels have fluctuated back and forth since COVID began, but the decline we’ve seen this year is the sharpest plunge in 48 years.

Blandin said if we don’t keep productivity rising, the consequences could hit us all.

“Our incomes would stop going up. We would lose influence in the world. Politics would probably become more divisive as people are arguing over a stagnant pie. So if that were to continue, that would be a very serious problem,” he said.

Why is this happening? Blandin sees three big trends. The first is the Great Resignation.

“We've seen historically high levels of reshuffling as workers change jobs. It can take a while for the right firm to find the right worker and for them to make a productive match, so that could be part of the story,” said Blandin.

Two, a tight labor market gives workers more power and would, “possibly make it easier for some workers to maybe not push quite as hard as they could because they know that they won't be fired,” Blandin said.

Third, Blandin said he thinks many workers are just burned out. The question then becomes, how do we get more productive?

We spoke with burnout coach Dr. Kate Steiner, who said we can be more productive if we give ourselves time to recover.

She finds that the first step in recovery is scheduling time throughout the day for yourself.

“When I say schedule time for yourself, I don't mean like the full day on Sunday or even a few hours at the end of the night. I mean like 2 to 5 minutes, at least 3 to 5 times throughout your day,” she said.

Take that time for positive affirmations—listening to music, playing with your kids or pets—find something small that brings you a little joy. Over time, this will improve your focus and energy for work.

“They're more clear-headed,” said Steiner of employees who take time to recover. “So, they're better problem solvers, less mistakes are made, and that's, you know, really important to the bottom line.”

Steiner believes the more companies that support recovery, the more productive employees and the economy can be.

“It can have a pretty big impact on how we show up in the world. People want to work, but they want to be valued for what they're doing,” said Steiner.

If you’d like to connect with Steiner for more resources, click HERE.