Productivity lull hits Australian workforce as pandemic fatigue sets in

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Only 45 per cent of working Australians feel productive most of the week and nearly half (47 per cent) spend between two and 10 hours each week on work-related admin, according to fresh data from MYOB. 

MYOB’s study of over 1,000 Australian workers and business owners revealed this busy-ness is encroaching on other areas of life. More than half (60 per cent) admit they use time outside of work to complete admin tasks and 50 per cent respond with “busy” every time or most of the time when asked “how are you?” 

MYOB general manager for Small Business, Emma Fawcett, said the data suggests the last 18 months of turmoil in Australians’ lives is taking a toll, with a feeling of being busy at work not necessarily leading to productivity or a sense of achievement. 

“A lack of productivity is not only a cost to individuals; it’s a cost to businesses and the economy,” Fawcett said. 

“A recent report from the Productivity Commission found Australia’s business productivity is at its lowest in 60 years and has led to low business and wages growth. As we come to the end of the year and start to see life get back to normal, it’s vital we put better structures in place to not just feel busy, but to feel productive.” 

Work encroaching on personal time is also having an impact on relationships. More than two thirds (68 per cent) of those polled say family and friends want them to spend more time with them and do less after-hours work. This number is even higher in younger people, with 78 per cent of 18-24-year-old respondents saying their loved ones feel this way. 

When it comes to how busy-ness affects work relationships, the data revealed those that feel overwhelmed have less patience for discussing unimportant matters with colleagues (32 per cent) and 30 per cent admit they close off from others to focus on the work. 

Getting some time back on administrative tasks could deliver more fruitful results for local businesses. If some work-related admin tasks were automated, workers said they would: 

  • Small business owners said they would use that time to build their business (34 per cent). 
  • Spend time on personal development, to upskill in a different area (41 per cent). 
  • Do creative and deeper thinking (37 per cent). 
  • Stretch their capabilities and work on more senior projects (20 per cent); highest among 25–34-year-old respondents (25 per cent). 
  • Work with colleagues on more strategic tasks (46 per cent). 

While the data points to productivity issues, most Australians have strategies in place to get into a productive mindset and maximise the time when they feel most productive. Forty-nine per cent said they have a routine to start their day and 39 per cent said they exercise in the morning to clear their head. 

This is a strategy most favoured by the younger generation (53 per cent) and small business owners (40 per cent). Meanwhile, 45 per cent acknowledge they are most productive in the morning, whereas only 15 per cent said they were more productive after lunch. 

Productivity expert from RMIT University, Olga Kokshagina, said to get the most out of the working day, we need to ensure balance between curiosity in the task and focus on getting the job done. 

“We need to focus on getting things done and accomplishing the items on our to-do lists as quickly as possible, but this is not enough for ‘good productivity,’” Kokshagina said. 

“To be satisfied with our work, we need to embrace our curiosity and take time to think about the work. When we are curious, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more creative solutions. 

“If you’re more productive in the morning, it’s important to use that time to get this type of work done. In a world where we are working from home more and managing our home life on top of our work life, it’s important to set clear boundaries of when you’re working and when you’re living your personal life. This will help lead to a better sense of achievement and a more enjoyable work environment, free of constantly ‘feeling busy’.” 

Kokshagina’s tips to get ‘good busy’: 

  • Arrange your calendar to reflect your priorities. Many of us are involved in a variety of different tasks and projects – this is great. But does your agenda reflect this? You need to make sure that your calendar includes time to plan, as well as do the work. 
  • Avoid constantly checking your emails. According to Statista, roughly 306.4 billion emails were sent each day in 2020 and this is expected to increase. Emails can create a sense of productivity, but many just take our attention away from important tasks. Prior research showed those who check emails just a few times a day report lower stress than those who constantly respond to their email. 
  • Switch off unnecessary notifications. Studies indicate that we touch our phones around 2,000 times per day. Most of it is due to unnecessary notifications. Try to limit distractions by switching off notifications you don’t need. 
  • Set boundaries. In a work-from-home world, it’s important to set the times you’re working and with your family. Using an out of office response on email if you’re with family, or blocking out the calendar, will help create boundaries and give you a better sense of achievement in your work and personal life. There’s no such thing as a 9-to-5 anymore; you really can design the day your way. 
  • Use tech to help productivity. The right technology can help you remove administrative tasks like sending invoices, running payroll and managing teams. Understanding which technologies can help you with some of the tasks that are sucking time from your day will give you a huge boost in productivity. 

MYOB recently unveiled its reimagined platform, MYOB Business, allowing SMEs to take charge of their own software through a new module approach to business management. Five subscription plans are now available, including Lite, with core business features for smaller businesses, and Pro, for those in rapid growth. 

“MYOB aims to give Australian SMEs the freedom to make more time for ‘good busy,’ wherever, whenever and however they’re at their most productive,” Fawcett said. 

For more information, visit myob.com/au/accounting-software.