The Better Work Index

Economists have long known that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is an inaccurate reflection of a country’s economic progress. First the experts debated over why the GDP growth has been miniscule in developed nations and the secret sauce for growth. When efforts in finding an answer to growth failed, debates sparked on whether GDP accurately captured everything that encompassed growth – were they defining it incorrectly? Yet despite all debates, nations, policies and politicians remain laser focused on that single number. Why? Because what gets measured, gets chased after. It is highly unsatisfying to put in place policies and resources and not be able to find a single measure that reflects it all. Yes, infant mortality may have fallen, diseases eradicated and poverty reduced, but the appeal of one single score is undeniable. This is the very reason OECD created the Better Life index; to translate the same satisfaction to a new score that gives economies what they are looking for – not just a compelling reason to change and how, but a new index that could with time and perseverance eventually replace GDP.

Indexes work. Which is why the world is running amok with them. There’s the Good Country index, the Long Term Stock Exchange (LTSE) and our very own Great Places to Work index. While not all companies may buy into being scored on the GPW index, it is still by far the most popular we have when it comes to measuring workplaces against each other. Participating organizations are motivated to operate better year on year purely (pardon the exaggeration) to find a better ranking.

In an age where organizations are almost as powerful as nations, if not more and similarly organized, I can’t help wonder if we’re missing something. Every single country in the world cares about their GDP growth. It is used in election rallies, nation health reports, and fussed over endlessly. Is there a single metric in the world of work that replicates that? If you have read this far, you know what the number is. It is announced every year during the financial results, if not more often for publically traded companies and calculated even for those not publically listed. It’s the financial numbers of which most cared about is likely the profit margin. And for the same reasons that GDP is increasingly the incorrect number to chase, profit also fails to paint a complete picture. Organizations, much like nations need to find themselves a new ‘single’ number to chase after because if anything, we know they do a good job at chasing.

If the future of GDP is the Better Life Index, then why not steal with pride and replace financial number chasing with the Better Work index? We spend half our lives slaving for organizations and know that it is impossible to achieve a better life without better work. The reason I am writing this for an HR blog (apart from it being the only blog I own), is that this is what our profession was built to do. HR, much like governments, is the body that is responsible for creating better work. The Better Work index is a direct measure of the effectiveness of HR. Yes, the index will include measures on contribution to climate change, financial performance and society at large, but it will ultimately the HR organization (or the new rebranded version) that will own the score.

Like the index that inspired the name, the measures can also be, to some extent, be replicated given that Better Life already measures aspects like work-life balance, health and safety – all areas that the HR function likes to obsess over. The Better Work index can divide measures into material working conditions (ergonomics, physical/virtual work spaces, technology for collaboration etc., benefits) and quality of work (absenteeism, health (including stress), work satisfaction, balance etc.) It will take a team of experts to put together an index and a larger team of marketers to make it a ‘thing’. Maybe this is what the next big HR startup should actually work on.

Do I believe that the Better Life index will replace GDP? I do not. Do I think it will supplement it? I doubt it. But eventually will the debate between economists lead to an index that will finally replace GDP? Yes, most definitely.

Is the Better Work index going to replace financial numbers? Of course, not. Will it supplement it? I hope so. And until we find the replacement, I hope someone out there will work on creating a Better Work index that may finally give organizations, if not HR, the single number to chase. Because, if time off work is what everyone is living for, there has to be something wrong with how we designed work.

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