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Productivity remains a pipe dream for most, despite attempts by consecutive governments to get companies and workers to work smarter, not longer.
Research carried out by Ernst and Young between August 31 and September shows that nearly nine out of 10 New Zealand workers are striving to improve productivity but only one in two actually manage to do so.
Time wasting costs New Zealand organisations $17 billion a year, compared with $19 billion in the last survey six months ago.
The most-mentioned reasons for improved productivity include ''being more experienced with the job'' and ''training and education''.
The so-called ''lost souls'' - the most unproductive workers - who make up 5% of the workforce, account for more than 20% of time wasted across the working day.
A further 18% is wasted by ''patchy participants'', the most worrying group of all, to Ernst and Young partner Bradken Dickson said.
''These people comprise 17% of the New Zealand workforce. They are the least satisfied, least motivated group, using few of their skills.
"They are the least likely of all four groups to be looking for another job."
Most workers (61%) said individual employees were responsible for improving productivity but only a third placed the responsibility on the managing director or chief executive.
Workers were more productive in organisations where productivity was communicated well, such as clear expectations and instructions given bybosses. Only 50% of the 750 people surveyed believed their organisation communicated productivity well.
Mr Dickson said increasing productivity and cutting costs were not the same thing.
''Don't confuse activity with outputs. The survey is a wake-up call for management who need to make it clear to workers what they want and expect.
''The critical question is whether workers are working on the right activities."
Often, people were found to be very busy. Overtime was increased and extra workers were brought in but the output was not increased, he said.
That showed things were not being organised properly. Organisations were not getting the efficiencies they should be from their workforces, he said.
Employers needed to be clear with each individual worker what their output needed to be on a daily basis. Workers needed to be well-supported, well-managed and well-supervised.
''There needs to be some recognition of the consequences if they don't perform. It's not rocket science. It's Management 101,'' Mr Dickson said.
In the public sector, efforts to measure productivity results always attracted a high level of resistance. However, evidence showed that people wanted to know whether or not they were being productive.