Belgians got more productive during pandemic lockdowns

Belgians became more productive during the pandemic, despite the severe stress, anxiety and significant financial hardship caused by the successive lockdowns. This is according to a recent Belgian National Productivity Council (NRP) report.

Belgians' productivity increased by 0.9 per cent annually between 2019 and 2021: a slightly more substantial increase than the 0.8 per cent annual productivity increase for the eurozone.

As De Tijd noted, such productivity growth is quite atypical during an economic crisis, when companies tend to cut costs by investing less in research and development, which are crucial to maintaining (and increasing) productivity.

Luc Denayer, president of the Belgian National Productivity Council, says European productivity gains cannot simply be attributed to workers performing better at home than in the office. Instead, according to Denayer, it is more plausible that the increase is because low-productivity sectors of the European economy, such as the hospitality industry, were shut down during the Covid closures. In contrast, ​ traditionally high-productivity sectors, such as the heavy industry, continued working as usual.

Despite overall productivity growth in recent years, the average productivity growth rate of Belgians is still much lower than in the 1970s, when productivity grew at 4 per cent to 5 per cent a year. In contrast, over the past 20 years, Belgium's productivity has grown by an average of only 0.8 per cent a year, with Flanders (0.9 per cent) being slightly more productive than Brussels and Wallonia (0.7 per cent).

The reason for this sharp decline is an open question. However, some economists suspect it is linked to rising inequality in much of western society, which in many cases has led to stagnating wages, poorer health outcomes and anaemic growth.



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