April 8, 2022

MIT Sloan: The Case for Sustainable Productivity and How to Measure It

A recent MIT Sloan Management Review webinar explored the conflict between company productivity and employee well-being, especially in light of the pandemic and the Great Resignation.  According to experts in the MIT webinar, the solution is in “sustainable productivity”–focusing on employee engagement and well-being in addition to traditional productivity success metrics.


As a prospective MBA student exploring post-MBA career paths and companies you should consider sustainable productivity: joining a company that’s serious about measuring and being accountable to employee engagement and well-being could be a strong career differentiator.


According to Melissa Swift, U.S. Transformation Leader at Mercer, “recent increases in productivity that have led to a corresponding increase in employee burnout or disengagement aren’t just unsustainable, they’re also unethical.”  Swift notes that, similar to phases of the Industrial Revolution, employers have turned a blind eye to the most basic human needs of the workforce.  However, employers have increasingly recognized the need to address their employees’ wellness needs, potentially triggered by high burnout and turnover that has led to the moniker, the Great Resignation.


Even as employers have been open to increasing their employees’ well-being, the challenge is that it’s difficult to measure employee wellness and each employee defines it differently.  Most companies are better at measuring workers’ outputs than the inputs or process, which are more closely tied to employee wellness or engagement.  In addition, output and employee wellness metrics are typically measured by two different teams that rarely talk to each other.  Marketing and finance data crunchers are responsible for output measurements, while human resources is responsible for wellness metrics.


Michael Schrage, a visiting scholar at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, provides a three-part process towards achieving sustainable productivity:


  1. Define the well-being problem – it’s important to distinguish between two broad sets of workers: the burned out, who’ve been working too many hours, and the fed up, who have dealt with structural issues that make their jobs difficult. Identifying the problem will help leadership determine to what extent people are reacting to the intensity of the last few years versus structural issues that long predated the pandemic.
  2. Implement a new model of productivity measurement – this involves: 1) trust: where leaders trust employees to fulfill their roles and give them the space to do so; 2) empowerment: enabling employees to manage their time independently to achieve the right business outcomes; 3) accountability: employees assume responsibility for completing their work.
  3. Use insight to influence new behaviors – the first step is to communicate to employees why wellness data is being collected. Second, put the data into the hands of employees.  This enables them to explore and propose their own solutions to wellness.  Finally, the last step is to ensure that discussions about employee wellness and business outcomes happen at the same time.


As you embark on your MBA application, think about sustainable productivity and the companies and career paths that fit your definition of well-being.  For the full article on sustainable productivity, click here.  If you are looking for guidance as you start your MBA applications, contact Admitify today!