Anna Marie Atkinson, a human resources manager, is comfortable setting policies, onboarding new employees and getting involved when workers get in trouble or a crisis arises.
But with her Denver-based paper-manufacturing company coming up empty in a months-long search for an account manager, she volunteered to take on the role part-time. She now spends half her day in the far less predictable world of customer service, answering an endless variety of questions from businesses.
In human resources, “I was so used to a set of rules,” she says. “If they say A, you say C. In customer service, there are so many different scenarios you can’t really train for. It is a little unsettling.”
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With many companies struggling to find workers because of persistent labor shortages and others loath to hire with a projected recession looming, a growing number of firms are squeezing more out of their existing employees. They’re cross-training them for unfamiliar jobs, installing labor-saving technology and becoming more efficient by eliminating unnecessary steps from production or service routines.
All told, such strategies can increase U.S. productivity, or output per labor hour, reversing a steep slide in the first half of the year and helping solve several of the nation’s economic woes. In the April-June period, productivity tumbled at a 4.1% annual rate, its second straight quarterly decline. It also fell 2.4% from a year earlier, the largest annual drop on records dating to 1948, according to the Labor Department.