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Paradigm shift underway

New and better tools are needed to measure employee productivity, according to a new position paper.1 The authors focused on the use of productivity measurement tools in meeting real-world business challenges.

They concluded that the best tool for measuring productivity depends on the purposes of measurement, and how the information will be used. Here are three categories of tools to measure productivity:

— "Descriptive measurement" looks at the effects of health on worker performance;

— "Comparative measurement" examines the impact of various health risks and conditions;

— "Evaluative measurement," focuses on changes in productivity over time, which is a critical consideration in judging the benefits of employee health programs.

According to the paper, worker health and productivity data must be formatted in a way that makes it usable by decision makers. "Dashboard" formats are one good approach, because the data is presented in a clear and concise manner. This allows leadership to get a clear picture of how health status affects worker performance.

Steve Schwartz, PhD, research director of HealthMedia in Ann Arbor, MI, and the paper's lead author, says that a paradigm shift is underway.

"There is a business imperative that is beginning to get traction with employers," says Schwartz. "Progressive and successful companies are now investing in the health and well-being of their workforce."

Doing this effectively impacts direct healthcare expenditures, but also the productivity and performance of employees. "This paper provides a justification for measuring productivity related to health status, in valid and actionable ways," says Schwartz.

State of flux

Schwartz says that measuring productivity is in "a state of flux." This is because of increasing numbers of service sector jobs as opposed to manufacturing jobs, which means that traditional methodologies aren't always applicable.

"Piece work — actual count of products — or time and motion studies that worked well in a manufacturing environment do not lend themselves to the service sector," says Schwartz.

Self-report measures are emerging as the measurement method of choice. "While they have some challenges related to recall and other forms of report bias, they have the advantage of being more appropriate for most jobs that do not produce a concrete work output," says Schwartz.

They are also easy and economical to administer. "While some are skeptical of their validity, the development of valid and reliable self report measures of productivity is absolutely doable," says Schwartz.


1. Schwartz SM, Riedel J. Productivity and health: best practices for better measures of productivity. J Occup Environ Med. 2010;52(9):865-871.