Does it pay for firms to invest in their workers’ wellbeing?
Alex Bryson, John Forth, Lucy Stokes 17 November 2014
It is generally agreed that firms can improve their employees’ wellbeing through improvements in job quality – but is it in their economic interests to do so? This column reports research showing that satisfied employees and higher productivity go together. Analysis of the British Workplace Employment Relations Survey finds that employee job satisfaction is positively associated with workplace financial performance, labour productivity, and the quality of output and service.
Citizens’ wellbeing is rising to the top of the political agenda in many countries. The British government, for example, recently announced a What Works Centre for Wellbeing, with initial funding of £3.5 million over three years to investigate the determinants of wellbeing and how to improve it. This follows government investments in wellbeing metrics developed and pioneered by Britain’s Office for National Statistics.
Labour markets Productivity and Innovation
happiness, productivity, wellbeing, job satisfaction, labour productivity
The cleansing effect of the minimum wage in China
Florian Mayneris, Sandra Poncet 13 October 2014
Minimum wage laws are often shown to have little impact on employment as the labour price rise can be offset by lower turnover, lower markups, and heightened efficiency, or ‘cleansing’ effects. This column shows that in a fast-growing economy like China, there is a ‘cleansing’ effect of labour market standards. Minimum wage growth allows more productive firms to replace the least productive ones and forces incumbent firms to become more competitive. Both mechanisms boost the aggregate efficiency of the economy.
Can higher minimum wages ensure that economic development benefits the poorest without hindering growth? The question is controversial in both academic and policy circles. The recent riots in Bangladesh and Cambodia show that the social demand for a more equal distribution of the benefits of growth is high in developing countries. In China, polls reveal that concerns about inequality have grown as "roughly eight-in-ten have the view that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer'' (Pewresearch Center 2012). The debate is also heated in developed economies.
Industrial organisation Labour markets
China, wages, firms, productivity
Real wages continue to fall in the UK
David Blanchflower, Stephen Machin 29 September 2014
Real wages continue to fall in the UK and elsewhere, yet despite this striking feature of the labour market, some commentators anticipate resurgent pay growth in the near future. This column argues that the absence of any improvement in the UK’s productivity performance – together with evidence that nominal wage growth is flatlining and real wage growth is falling – make it highly unlikely that wage growth is about to explode upwards.
Real wages continue to fall in the UK and elsewhere (Jowett et al. 2014). Yet this striking feature of the labour market still fails to register properly with some commentators. On 9 September 2014, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, gave a speech at the 146th annual Trades Union Congress in Liverpool, where he argued as follows:
Europe's nations and regions Labour markets Productivity and Innovation
wages, UK, productivity, unions, union membership
Employee satisfaction and firm value: A global perspective
Alex Edmans 25 July 2014
Happy workers might well be more productive than unhappy ones, but high worker satisfaction could also be a sign that workers are overpaid or underworked. This column examines the link between worker satisfaction and future stock returns in 14 countries. In most but not all countries, employee satisfaction is associated with higher future stock returns. Abnormal returns to companies with high worker satisfaction are significantly increasing in the flexibility of their countries’ labour markets.
Is employee satisfaction good or bad for firm value? While it may seem natural that companies should do better if their workers are happier, this relationship is far from obvious. The 20th-century way of managing workers (e.g. Taylor 1911) is to view them as any other input – just as managers shouldn’t overpay for or underutilise raw materials, they shouldn’t do so with workers. High worker satisfaction may be a sign that workers are overpaid or underworked. However, the world is different nowadays.
Labour markets Microeconomic regulation Productivity and Innovation
employment, Labour Markets, productivity, Management, happiness, Stock returns, labour-market flexibility, employment protection, work, employee satisfaction, worker satisfaction, profits, labour-market regulation
Agglomeration and product innovation in China
Hongyong Zhang 21 July 2014
The Chinese government has been actively promoting innovation via policies such as R&D subsidies, tax relief, and location policies. Since 1995, central and local governments have established more than 100 clusters in over 60 cities. This column presents new evidence on the effect of the concentration of firms on product innovation (new products) in the manufacturing industries.
Spatial agglomeration of economic activities is generally assumed to improve productivity and spur firms’ innovation through localisation economies and urbanisation economies.1 There is an extensive empirical literature investigating the effects of localisation and urbanisation on firm-level productivity. Despite its economic importance, there are few empirical studies focusing on agglomeration and product innovation. Feldman and Audretsch (1999) and De Beule and Van Beveren (2010) are two of the few exceptions.
Productivity and Innovation
R&D, productivity, China, spatial concentration, innovation, subsidies, clusters, agglomeration
Protection of intellectual property to foster innovations in the service sector
Masayuki Morikawa 20 July 2014
Innovation is a key driver of productivity growth, but innovation in the service sector has received relatively little attention. This column shows that the total factor productivity gap between Japanese firms with and without innovations is larger in services than in manufacturing. Whereas the percentage of firms holding patents is much higher in manufacturing than in services, trade secrets are just as important in both sectors. These results suggest that the protection of trade secrets makes an important contribution to productivity growth.
Given the declining labour force due to population ageing, accelerating the productivity growth of industries – especially the service industries – is an important element of the growth strategy in Japan and most advanced countries. While there are a variety of factors affecting productivity, innovation is one of the key determinants of productivity growth. However, innovation in the service sector has not been studied well. I present findings on innovation in the service sector by focusing on the effect of intellectual property rights on innovation.
Productivity and Innovation
R&D, growth, productivity, patents, Japan, innovation, services, intellectual property, trade secrets
Sourcing foreign inputs to improve firm performance
Maria Bas, Vanessa Strauss-Kahn 14 July 2014
The rise of trade in intermediate inputs is well documented, but its role in shaping domestic economies is not yet completely understood. This column presents evidence from French firms on the effects of importing intermediate inputs. Firms importing more varieties of intermediate inputs increased their productivity and exported more varieties. Foreign inputs from the most advanced economies have the strongest effect on firm productivity, but imported inputs from all countries help raise the number of export varieties.
Should trade policy fight or promote imports of intermediate inputs? While several studies have shown the recent increase in imports of intermediate goods, their role in shaping domestic economies is not yet completely understood. Following the work of Feenstra and Hanson (1996), a large literature focuses on the impact of imported intermediate inputs on employment and inequality. It concludes that, like outsourcing, imported intermediate inputs have a role (although limited) in explaining job losses and wage reductions.
employment, productivity, wages, Inequality, trade, exports, outsourcing, imports, global value chains, Intermediate inputs
Connecting Brazil to the world
Patricia Ellen, Jaana Remes 12 July 2014
Brazil has grown rapidly and reduced poverty over the past decade, but it has grown more slowly than other emerging economies and its income per capita remains relatively low by global standards. This column points out that sectors of the Brazilian economy that have been opened up to international competition have outperformed those that remain heavily protected. Deeper integration into global markets and value chains could provide competitive pressures that would improve Brazil’s productivity and living standards.
Despite a decade of rapid growth and falling poverty rates, Brazil has failed to match the global average for income growth – let alone to achieve the kind of impressive gains posted by other rapidly transforming emerging economies. As of 2012, Brazil had become the world’s seventh-largest economy, but it ranked only 95th in the world for gross national income per capita (IHS Economics and Country Risk data). To raise household living standards, Brazil needs to find a new formula for accelerating productivity growth.
Development International trade Productivity and Innovation
development, growth, productivity, globalisation, MERCOSUR, trade, openness, Brazil, global value chains
Globalisation, job security, and wages
Kerem Cosar, Nezih Guner, James R Tybout 07 July 2014
Trade liberalisations are often accompanied by labour market reforms, making it difficult to isolate their effects. This column discusses the effects of trade liberalisation, globalisation, and labour-market reforms on the Colombian labour market. Reduced trade frictions increased cross-firm wage inequality and shifted the firm-size distribution rightward, with offsetting effects on overall wage inequality. Average income increased, but the gains were concentrated among employees of large, productive firms with access to export markets. Greater trade openness also increased job turnover.
How does increased openness to international trade affect workers’ wages and job security? This question is central to the public debate concerning the effects of globalisation, but convincing quantitative answers have been difficult to come by. One fundamental reason is that major trade liberalisation episodes have often coincided with labour reforms (Heckman and Pages 2004). Colombia is a case in point. As Figure 1 shows, this country experienced deindustrialisation, higher job turnover rates, and heightened wage inequality in the years following its 1986–1991 trade liberalisation.
International trade Labour markets
productivity, unemployment, globalisation, wages, trade liberalisation, Inequality, labour market reforms, exports, Colombia, job security
Are large headquarters unproductive?
Masayuki Morikawa 19 June 2014
Headquarters play important strategic roles in modern companies, but downsizing of headquarters is often advocated as a cost-cutting measure. This column presents evidence from Japanese firm-level data that the size of headquarters is positively associated with firms’ overall productivity. Moreover, the benefits of ICT are greater for companies with relatively large headquarters. Downsizing headquarters to cut costs may thus be harmful for long-term company performance.
The role of headquarters
Headquarters – the core service sector inside companies – conduct a wide range of highly strategic activities, including:
Productivity and Innovation
productivity, Management, ICT, Japan, technology, headquarters, centralisation