10/07/2014 06:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Drink Deep: The Link Between Education and Productivity

2014-10-07-classroom.jpg In August 2013, the Economic Policy Institute--a think tank focused on economic issues--publicized one striking conclusion from its recent research: at the state level, the average worker's productivity increases as their education level increases. The EPI recommended that states support secondary education in every way possible, rather than just tempting large companies to invest in the state via tax incentives. The result of the latter practice, the Institute argued, has been a race for the bottom that's resulted in more but lower-paying, low-productivity jobs in the short term. Higher levels of education, on the other hand, result in higher productivity all around.

Other organizations and pundits have made similar arguments for years, and I find it interesting that they all seem to determine higher productivity by citing higher average wages, which isn't necessarily true on an individual level. Someone making $10 an hour can be far more productive than someone who makes $25 per hour. Perhaps you know a super-productive person who is lower on the totem pole but produces far greater results than an employee who is paid more. Granted, perhaps someone with a higher wage may feel more empowered and inspired to work harder; however, higher wages do not necessarily make workers more productive. The true measure of productivity is the amount of work done per unit of time. Higher average wages is more a measure of prosperity than productivity--another good thing, yes, but let's not confuse the two.

That said, I agree that more education can in fact boost productivity. If you train people to perform their jobs better--by using specialized equipment and hardware more effectively or becoming more efficient through greater organization and time management--their productivity will increase. When you can complete a form in five minutes instead of fifteen, then you've clearly increased your productivity. Similarly, if you're an ace on your spreadsheet software, you'll be able to crunch numbers in much less time than a newbie.

There's a misleading saying that goes, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." It's misleading because the full quote by Alexander Pope is, "A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring," referring to a sacred spring in Greek mythology that would bring you knowledge. The fact is, the deeper you drink, the better; a little learning is good, but the more learning a person "drinks," in the widest possible context, the higher the return on investment.

So don't skimp on the training, workshops, online learning, mentoring, and college classes--especially when budgets are tight--for cutting corners on learning is truly counter-productive. The more informed people are about the personal and professional aspects of their jobs, the more productive they'll be. Help your team members learn how to do their jobs better, and your collective productivity will soar.

Image provided by Microsoft.

© 2014 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, is America's Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, Laura has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the bestselling author of six books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy (March 2014). Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.