The average German worker produces more in four days than a British equivalent does in five, according to the latest international comparisons published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last October.
The United Kingdom’s below-par productivity performance throughout the last decade has now opened up an alarming gulf of more than 15pc with the other half-dozen members of the G7 group of industrial nations.
The ONS report pointed out that there has been a nosedive in productivity for every member of the G7 since the financial crisis of the late 2000s, but the impact on the UK has been twice as severe. With Brexit looming, what are the tools and attitudes needed to improve this worrying situation, and solve the so-called “productivity puzzle”?
Skilled workers urgently needed
David Willett, corporate director at The Open University, believes “the UK’s chronic skills shortage” must be urgently addressed, and workforce investment is paramount. “Our research shows that this is costing UK businesses more than £2bn a year in higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staffing,” he says.
“Continued uncertainty, exacerbated by Brexit, threatens to constrain our already limited access to skilled workers. To improve this, organisations must rethink the ways they can access the skills they need, as well as how they can future-proof their workforce against changes in the political, economic and technological environment.”
Workplace disengagement is another – linked – critical issue, suggests Professor Isaac Getz of ESCP Europe Business School. Indeed, in Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace report only 11pc of UK employees are engaged in their job, compared with 70pc at the world’s most successful organisations.
“The reason for this disengagement is the traditional workplace culture of hierarchical bureaucracy that infantilises employees and robs them of responsibility,” says Prof Getz. “Hundreds of organisations all over the world are transforming this traditional culture into a liberated one, based on the freedom and responsibility of employees to take any action they themselves decide is best for their company.”
Tech-enabled flexible working
This desire for autonomy tallies with findings from Vodafone’s Unlocking Productivity: Working in the UK report from last year. It found 23pc of the 3,019 respondents admitted to being “unproductive” at work. Around 71pc said a flexible working policy would enable them to be more productive.
“Incentivising employees with perks such as a shorter working day, the ability to work from home or hot desk around the office, has been proven to create a more engaged and productive workforce,” says David Clift, human resources director at Totaljobs Group. “This makes a better work-life balance, which in turn encourages creativity and provides focus.”
Embracing technology can also improve workplace efficiency and agility. “Unified communications within a business – such as access to instant messenger, work mobile phones, and video conferencing – supports the effectiveness of flexible working,” Mr Clift continues. “By providing an interconnected workforce, regardless of location, employees can work productively from multiple locations.”
The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has contributed to employee disengagement, though savvy business leaders can use it to their advantage while simultaneously boosting staff morale. “In the UK, four in five business leaders believe that their AI deployments are already outpacing people at performing certain tasks,” says Mohit Joshi, president of global IT consultants Infosys.
“These technologies are automating routine, mundane and highly predictable day-to-day tasks, leaving employees with freed up time to take on more complex work. The organisations that embrace AI with a clearly defined strategy and use it to amplify their workforce rather than replace it will take the lead, while those that don’t will fall behind or find themselves irrelevant.”
Clare Barclay, Microsoft’s UK chief operating officer, agrees. “There are fantastic tools and technologies that are enabling smarter working practices,” she says. “Together, cloud technologies and robust hardware are enabling employees to work in the ways and places that help them do their best work, while connecting with colleagues and accessing everything they need to get the job done.”
Ms Barclay adds: “Technology alone will not plug the productivity gap. Our research shows that currently only 23pc of UK businesses are investing in the kind of cultural change programme that will help employees adapt to changing working practices.
“To unlock the true value of technology initiatives, companies must co-invest in cultural – as well as a digital – transformation. After all, it’s where human potential blends with innovative technology that the magic happens and true productivity gains can be made.”
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To find out more, visit vodafone.co.uk