Improving worker commitment key to closing Canada’s productivity gap

Improving worker commitment key to closing Canada’s productivity gap

Labour productivity in Canada is lagging – we generate less value per hour worked relative to our international peers. [1] Despite the fact that labour effort (work hours per capita) has grown over the past two decades, the economic value per hour worked (GDP per capita) has fallen behind. In short, Canadians are working harder, but not smarter.

Reducing this productivity gap requires either increasing the value of outputs or the efficiency of inputs. Here, complementary compensation and organizational policies can be used in the workplace to enhance labour productivity. While compensation practices have proven useful tools to incentivize workers, they may not provide an enduring competitive advantage.[2] By contrast, organizational policies can provide a cost-effective and distinct means for employers to close the productivity gap.

Enter the concept of employee commitment – an attitude that reflects the strength of the bond between an employee and an organization. Commitment based on identification with or feelings of obligation toward a person’s workplace are associated with increased job satisfaction, organizational citizenship behaviours (going out of your way to help a co-worker out), and lower employee turnover. Importantly, these factors can maximize the value of outputs, efficiency of labour inputs, and, overall, improve productivity.[3]

As the summer months creep up and the school year winds down, here are some smart organizational policies that promote employee commitment and, by extension, enhance labour productivity. Reviewing the lessons learned – the ABCs of worker commitment – may be part of managers’ homework in solving the productivity puzzle.

Advance an Entrepreneurial Culture

Managers should assess their workplace culture in terms of its ability to foster employees’ sense of entrepreneurialism. An entrepreneurial culture makes workers feel like they are running their own mini-business by providing workers with reasonable flexibility in organizing their work and allowing them to contribute to decision-making. Workers that are more educated, diverse, and experienced may not only be able to offer unique insights, but they may feel a greater sense of and need to exercise independence.

Allowing individuals or teams (rather than management) to determine scheduling and overtime work, along with enhancing vertical collaboration within an organization, provides workers with a sense of independence, emotional meaning, and demonstrates confidence in employees’ judgement.[4] This first requires building trust between workers and breaking down organizational hierarchies which, in turn, involves strong leadership and internal communication. That said, advancing an entrepreneurial culture can boost worker commitment and consequently enhance productivity.

Blur Personal and Professional Lines

Traditional work arrangements set a false dichotomy between employees’ personal and professional lives when, in reality, workers perform various tasks and occupy different roles throughout the day. While these tasks and roles may follow a routine, it can be conceptually and practically difficult for today’s workers to separate their personal and professional goals and obligations, which may very well be intertwined.

Many organizations have adopted policies that help employees achieve work-life balance. These include providing flexible work schedules, alternative work arrangements, child care at work, and time off for family reasons.[5] Although these measures can be difficult to coordinate and may require a change in workplace culture, adopting such initiatives better reflects the blurred lines between employees’ personal and professional lives, improves employees’ quality of life at home and at work, and signals employers’ concern for worker well-being. Again, these initiatives raise employees’ commitment to their place of work which, in turn, enhances productivity.

Cultivate Career Management

Cultivating career management harnesses peoples’ natural tendencies to be inquisitive and take on new tasks. In a competitive labour market, employers need to provide the necessary tools, support, and cultural environment for workers to plan and grow their careers. These efforts are better aligned with the expectations of an educated, diverse, and experienced labour force.

Horizontal and vertical career mobility within an organization can yield greater employee commitment by signaling that employers are willing to establish long-term relationships with and invest in their employees.[6] Examples of career management initiatives include career planning and monitoring, job adaptation and training, advertising internal opportunities, and adopting accepted and transparent criteria for assessing candidates. Although it may require persistent management and a change in workplace practices, cultivating career management has been shown to improve employee commitment and, by extension, productivity levels.

Summing-up the Lesson

Canadians should smarten up – solving the productivity puzzle involves assessing how and why employees are working. In the context of a changing labour force and fluid employment environment, managers should think about increasing worker commitment to reduce Canada’s labour productivity gap.


[1] There are many ways of measuring labour productivity but, in general, it is an estimate of the value of an output relative to its inputs.

[2] Denis Chênevert and Michel Tremblay. (2009). “Fits in strategic human resource management and methodological challenge: empirical evidence of influence of empowerment and compensation practices on human resource performance in Canadian firms.” The International Journal of Human Resource Management 20, no 4: 738-770.

[3] Gary Johns and Alan M. Saks. (2014). Organizational Behaviour: Understanding and Managing Life at Work, 9th edition. Toronto: Pearson Canada Inc. Jean E. Wallace. (1995). “Corporatist Control and Organizational Commitment among Professionals: The Case of Lawyers Working in Law Firms.” Social Forces 73, no. 3: 811-840.

[4] Stéphanie Chasserio and Marie-Josée Legault. (2009). “Strategic human resources management is irrelevant when it comes to highly skilled professionals in the Canadian new economy.” The International Journal of Human Resource Management 20, no. 5: 1113-1131.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Louise Lemire, Tania Saba, and Yves-Chantal Gagnon. (1999). “Managing career plateauing in the Quebec public sector.” Public Personnel Management 28, no. 3: 375-391. Marjorie Armstrong-Stassen and Seung Hwan (Mark) Lee. (2009). “The effect of relational age on older Canadian employees’ perceptions of human resource practices and sense of worth to their organization.” The International Journal of Human Resource Management 20, no. 8: 1753-1769.

Photo Credit: Lesia_G, Getty Images 

Category: Economic Progress, Education, Productivity