The Productivity Puzzle: Why is the UK lagging behind Europe in the Workplace?
Guest Blog from Claire Richardson, Chair of the Workforce Institute Europe
At a time when the UK workforce is under the spotlight, countless studies, including the “Always On Con” report from the Workforce Institute Europe have revealed that British workers consistently underperform compared to their European counterparts – they are less productive at work, spend more work time on social media, work more often at home and sleep fewer hours.
Perhaps the most worrying statistic is that younger generations are struggling to work effectively in our rapidly changing workplace. They are quicker to adopt, and more enthusiastic about, new technology, but they are less able to make it a productive tool in their working lives. The reason for concern is that we can expect the pace of change to increase, so what impact might this have on the future performance of the UK?
This is by no means a new development, but it does demonstrate a consistent lack of analysis and understanding of why the UK workforce is underperforming. A lack of analysis that we at the Workforce Institute Europe intend to address. This is very timely and especially important as Brexit approaches. With the statistics revealing that only one in five UK employees between 16-25 years old complete 7-8 hours of “work related activity” in their working day, well below the national average of 35 percent, solving this puzzle will be a critical element in ensuring our future success outside the European Union.
One way to make a positive intervention and increase UK productivity, is for industry to take a close look at the way they implement and utilise technology. This is clear from our research, and at the forefront of this intervention is the need to develop a tailored and flexible strategy that helps the workforce balance work and play, while also discovering how they work best. Technology has a key role to play in improving productivity, and the role of employers is to provide the workforce with the skills they need to become empowered, rather than hindered or distracted, by technology.
The Procrastination Nation
To get to the root of the productivity gap, we have to understand what employees are actually doing in the workplace. The “Always On Con” study reveals that while the productivity of the youngest British workers is lowest, they also spend most time engaging with family and friends through social media.
Not only are they the most active users at home, but also at work, nearly two thirds of workers under the age of 24 admitting to using their personal social media accounts for more than 30 minutes a day at work. There are many potential causes for this – are they bored with their roles, do they feel disenfranchised in the modern workplace, are they less equipped to manage their time. The truth is that we simply don’t know why, but it is clear that understanding this issue is crucial in helping businesses become more productive, employees more engaged, and making better use of the section of the workforce that has the biggest potential – young people.
This attitude to productivity at work is also reflected, albeit to a lesser extent, by the rest of the British workforce, with more than a third claiming they are distracted by technology at work. In comparison, this applies to less than a quarter of the German workforce. So this is not just a generational issue, but a widespread issue.
The boundaries between work life and home life is also blurred, a trend that appears to be correlated with the lower levels of productivity delivered by UK workers. With home life leaking into work life, it seems the work that is not completed during the day is being taken home.
Ensuring that work/life balance is not just respected, but encouraged, is just one small step on the path to ensuring your workforce is engaged, happy and productive. It is clear that a more fundamental review of the way we work is overdue – we need to close the growing productivity gap at this critical moment for the UK economy and using technology effectively is clearly at the heart of the solution. The Workforce Institute Europe will continue to thoroughly investigate the causes of the issues we have identified through our research, using insight from the leading thinkers in this field to come up with workable solutions. In the meantime just making small changes to a few key workplace practices can go a long way to deliver success, business by business.