Too often, productivity gets a bad rep as something painful to achieve. It's equated with "doing more with less" or "working smarter, not harder." Those mottos sound very appealing to managers but are often viewed by employees as code words for "doing the work of three people" or "putting in longer hours." In essence, workers mistrust the idea of boosting productivity because they think it means boosting the amount of work put into any given effort.
They're not always wrong, of course. Managers frequently cut costs by cutting staff and then contend that the same amount of work is getting done. Presto! Instant productivity! (And usually an instant decline in morale.)
But it doesn't have to be that way. Sometimes increased productivity really can be the result of improved work processes, smarter use of technologies, better management, more work-friendly cultures or brand-spanking-new inventions.
What's more, if you do it the right way, raising productivity leads to greater happiness, at least at the macro level. Consider this. A new report from the OECD found that there's a strong correlation between productivity and a population's subjective sense of well-being, otherwise known as life satisfaction or happiness. An article on the subject noted that Denmark, which received the highest "happiness" score, "is not only a wealthy country, it's also highly productive, with a 2009 GDP per capita of $68,000."
It's not a one-to-one correlation, mind you. Norway has the highest GDP per capita but has only the ninth-happiest population. Overall, however, "the countries that scored at the top still boast some of the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world."
GPD per capita is one of the most basic ways of calculating national productivity. So, the bottom line is that a highly productive economy is a happy one. Everyone wins - unless, of course, it's those who are unemployed or overworked as a result of attempts to make the labor force more productive. It's a bit of a conundrum, but it turns out that national happiness is also correlated with work/life balance and with lower unemployment rates.
Therefore, productivity raises happiness levels as long as it ultimately leads to more jobs and greater work/life balance. In the best of worlds, workers get more done in a regular workday due to higher productivity, leading to the kind of increased wealth that leads to more job creation. There's a virtuous cycle here. For those that believe in the "pursuit of happiness," maintaining this cycle is key. Now we just have to figure out how to jump-start this cycle in an era of long workdays, high unemployment and (especially in the manufacturing sector) lower production. After all, our happiness may depend on it.