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A graph comparing GDP per hour worked for OECD countries
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a composite image of 9 different industry sectors
The Double-edged Sword: Which sectors support a higher Productivity – Myths and Hard Truths about New Zealand’s Low Productivity
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We’re not Working Harder than Ever, but Harder than Everyone Else – Myths and Hard Truths about New Zealand’s Low Productivity

a graph comparing hours worked for several OECD countries

For quite some time I have been perpetuating a myth about New Zealand’s Low Productivity. I’ve been misleading my audiences from the top of the North to the bottom of the South. In this fourth instalment of the our series on the myths and hard truths on our low productivity, I will correct my mistake, dispell this myth and apologise to my audiences.

Whenever I talk to people about our mission, the state of productivity in New Zealand and how to return our country to the top rankings, I appeal to the Why and the WIIFM (What’s in it for me) of the audience members. I state that I do not want to be part of the generation that had the opportunity to halt our decline and improve our productivity, but declined to act. As I have a choice. And this choice involves engaging with organisations to adopt better practices, tried and true methods that result in better outcomes. Because if you do not change how you work and what you do, you will get the same result.

Part of this conversation is about what is causing our decline in productivity. And I dispel the first myth. New Zealand’s Low Productivity is not declining, we’re actually increasing it. But the other nations are growing it faster than us, hence our slippage. Mostly for dramatic effect, I then make my statement, which is now proven to be erroneous: “The only reason we have improved our ‘productivity’ is by working longer hours.” The discussion that follows is about the definition of productivity: you can not claim improvement if the input increases to create greater output.

The hours worked topic is always an opportunity to have a (friendly) dig at the French, who with a 35-hour legal working week, combined with plentiful good wine and cheese, stunning buildings and landscape, and a world-class cycling event, appear to have an admirable life.

But now I stand corrected, and I apologise.

According to the 2023 Productivity Data, working Kiwi’s have not increased, but reduced their hours worked over the past 50 years. Not consistently, there have been small increases over the years, but overall down. But our reduction in hours worked is far more limited compared to the other small advanced economies. They have shorter working weeks, rostered days off, and greater leave entitlements – and higher productivity leading to greater national wealth! Those other nations have a far better deal!

I know it may not feel to you that you are working shorter hours, but in the law of statistical averages as a nation, we have reduced our working hours. I’m not stating this as a good or bad thing; what is a bad thing is that according to the data, New Zealanders work more for less. An average 5.8% more hours worked for 68% of productive output compared OECD nations. That is a sobering statistic.

Next time: Which sectors in New Zealand contribute to a higher ranking, and which detract.

If you would like to see the data for yourself, the Productivity Commission has provided access for everyone here: 2023 Productivity Data.

About the author: Geerten Lengkeek is the Managing Director of Productivity People