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2024 HR Trends: Tackling Productivity in a Sustainable Way

2024 HR Trends: Tackling Productivity in a Sustainable Way

How do you generate higher profits without adding more expenses? It’s the question at the core of any of our productivity conversations, and the success of any organisation.

Although it sounds simple, productivity can be a mysterious force. How do we measure it, and how do we shift it? It’s the topic of countless business books, and it was also a topic we covered at ELMO’s recent panel discussion, Shaping the Future: 2024 HR & Recruitment Trends. 

Productivity in a Sustainable Way

Sunita Gloster, AM, moderated our expert panel of thought leaders:

  • Emily McLeod, co-founder and director of WOW Recruitment
  • Kate Wikinson, ELMO Software’s Chief People Experience Officer
  • Keegan Luiters, team performance and leadership expert. 

And the panel weren’t afraid to start with one of the biggest questions.

Why is productivity so hard to lift?

If lifting productivity was simple, it wouldn’t be one of most discussed topics in HR – but it is. We hear from boardrooms and C-suites that it’s important to lift productivity but that can often send the wrong message to a workforce: that they’re not doing enough to help the organisation to succeed. And if you’re also trying to combat burnout and provide wellbeing benefits, what are you actually asking people to do?

It’s a conversation that takes some courage, said Keegan, because simply asking workers to work harder is not the most effective approach. 

“If you take people who are already feeling fairly well committed and then ask them to work harder, we have a sense of where that heads in all of the negative implications of that,” he said. “And so [it’s about having] the courage to go, ‘We need to do something different here.’” 

Keegan said he often works with senior leadership teams who work long hours, and then they see their workers are also working longer hours and working more often. 

“Part of their role that I speak to them about is: how do you demonstrate and encourage boundaries for people to be able to understand that, they can learn to say no graciously – to be able to say, ‘No, we can’t do this.’”


It’s impossible to expect a workforce to keep doing more and more, said Keegan, so it’s important to be strategic about the work that you’re asking them to do.

“That means that ‘no’ is something that we say around here a lot more often,” he said. 

But Keegan emphasised the importance of leadership behaviour matching what they’re saying, to ensure the message is believed. 

“I have to speak to the exec teams I’m working with and ask, ‘Do they actually believe you when you say that? What’s their experience when they say no to you? What’s their experience when they see others saying no to you?’ 

“Having those conversations where people do feel like they can say no, reprioritise and make the decisions on the things that are strategically most important to that organisation because … we can’t chase everything.”

Keegan said that this can be an uncomfortable shift, but it’s a crucial one if you want to sustain your workforce. 

“No organisation can afford for their people to be burning out – they just can’t.”

The importance of wellbeing in a productive workforce

We hear a lot about wellbeing in the workforce now, and many organisations have some form of wellbeing program for their employees. But, beyond yoga sessions and meditation rooms, what does best practice look like when it comes to wellbeing as it relates to performance and productivity?

Keegan said the best wellbeing programs he’s seen are tailored to suit each individual’s needs.

“They’re not one-size-fits-all,” he said. “They are acknowledging that people will have different demands on their life, depending on their life stage, depending on a range of different things. And so, have some consistent principles around wellbeing programs, but don’t make them one-size-fits-all.” 

He said it’s also important that employees feel supported beyond a one-time conversation about wellbeing, and that wellbeing initiatives need to be continually made available, and flexible for people to opt in and out of as it suits them. 

Why productive workplaces are so great at retaining talent

What we know about productive workplaces is that they are also some of the best at retaining their talent. What is it about those workplaces that makes them attractive to candidates, and that makes employees want to stay? 

Emily said that, in recent years, having a compelling employee value proposition (EVP) has become key.

“WOW actually held an event a couple of months ago where we had an expert run a workshop on how to actually develop an EVP, and the appetite for it was massive,” she said. “We never would have had that many people engage in an event like that two years ago. 

“Companies know it’s important to have [an EVP]. They know it’s important to invest in taking the time to develop it. Well, they know it’s important for it to be competitive and to be something that is attracting talent.”

Referring to WOW’s Job Satisfaction and Wage Trends Report 2023/24, Emily reported that, of the people who are highly satisfied in their job, 91% come from an organisation that has a wellbeing program in place. 

“What that looks like, we’re seeing, can be quite varied,” she said. “Our clients are all so different.”

What’s important to candidates when it comes to productivity?

While having an effective EVP is important from the employer side, a candidate’s point of view is slightly different. 

“The candidates obviously don’t call it the EVP, but what we see is that there’s certain things that they’re looking for and things that are high on their radar,” said Emily, adding that it’s those concerns that organisations should be incorporating into the EVP. 

She said the WOW report highlighted three main drivers that are consistent across all demographics and are the most important things to the majority of Australians:

  1. Work-life balance 
  2. Competitive salary compensation
  3. Impact on society and environment. 

Want to see a positive swing in your organisation’s productivity metrics? First, you have to measure them. ELMO’s powerful technology gives HR leaders the data they need, with pre-built dashboards to track key metrics and custom reporting tools to dive deeper into the numbers. Whether you’re just starting out with HR metrics or have been relying on data for some time, ELMO is customisable to suit your needs.

The role of leadership in balancing productivity, wellbeing and retention

It’s up to leaders to find a way to balance a productive workplace with the wellbeing and retention of its workforce. It’s a delicate balance, said Keegan, and it requires strategic thought. 

“This idea of balancing productivity and wellbeing is really talking about sustainable performance for people,” he said. “That’s the conversation we need to have around it because most businesses don’t want this peak and trough. 

“And, so, they realise that sustainable performance can’t include burnout.”

Any conversation about high performance actually should be about peak performance, said Keegan. 

“If you look at elite sport, they focus so much on recovery. What do they do in between? How are you helping your people with their recovery, with their time away from work? What are they doing productively with that?”

Emily floated ideas like restricting email sending times, implementing a nine-day fortnight, or synchronizing team off-days to create a more supportive work environment.

The importance of data in measuring productivity

Getting the dial just right in terms of supporting employee wellbeing while also trying to get the best out of everyone for the business is a tough balance, and it can also be difficult to measure. 

Kate said it’s at the core of many conversations she’s having, both within ELMO and externally, when it comes to health and HR leadership, and acknowledged that it’s a difficult problem to solve.

“It’s still one that we’re working on,” she said, adding that it’s important to understand the lens through which you’re viewing the issue, and what it means to your key stakeholders.

 “I’m looking at productivity through the lens of an HR professional,” said Kate. “What does productivity mean to the CFO? To the sales leader? What does productivity look like, and how does it link to the business strategy as well? Does your job measure productivity based on innovation since the business strategy centers around it, or is it more focused on growth?

Kate emphasized clear targets for sales teams and specific acquisition goals for talent acquisition, both of which would be worth celebrating upon achievement. But, she added, it’s measuring the intangible and being able to celebrate the input of people in roles that have intangible results that can be challenging but is equally important.

“Gallup had a report that stated that engaged employees are 21% more productive. So we know that engagement is key, and we need to look at what’s motivating the workforce.

“And, generally, it’s the learning opportunities and the culture piece that is key.”

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