Figures from the Office of National Statistics have demonstrated that British workers are currently producing less GDP per hour of work than their contemporaries in Canada, Germany, Italy, France and the US. Of the G7 nations, only Japan’s workers were producing less GDP per hour.
Plenty of people and newspapers have jumped on these figures to claim that this shows that British workers don’t work as hard as those of other nations. However, this is an entirely misleading argument that fails to look at the facts involved. They claim that, because the number of workers has gone up but Britain has been in recession, people are clearly doing less work in a greater amount of time.
This ignores the fact that many businesses will employ new people so that their future profits will increase and they can expand into capacity, as well as failing to look at the numerous service industries which exist that enable other workplaces to function properly without generating any real GDP of their own. It also fails to realise that many British workers took on extra work unpaid or undocumented during the financial crisis in order to protect their companies and jobs, and this trend may be reversing.
However, the figures still show what a bad state the economy is in. The difference between this “productivity” measure between the US and the UK was 39%, the highest it has been since 1990, when records began.
It is a confusing figure and one that hints at a much deeper story behind the numbers. Deutsche Bank’s UK economist, George Buckley, pointed out why the figures are worrying: “Productivity – output per person or per hour worked – has been exceptionally weak in this recession. In fact, depending on exactly how we measure it, UK workers are 2 per cent to 3 per cent less productive than before the crisis five years ago. In the absence of a crisis, we would have expected to be well over 10 per cent more productive than five years ago.”
As you can see, there is something of a mystery there, but to use these numbers to claim that British workers are slacking or lazy is to misinterpret them completely.