UK employees are feeling the pressure with a recent think tank report by The Smith Institute citing that two thirds are working longer hours, yet only 10% feel they are more productive. Demand to deliver more in less time, as well as the introduction of the National Living Wage, means there is a real risk of employee burn out as the gap between workplace happiness and higher outputs widens. This demonstrates a clear link between keeping the workforce happy and productive, and a firm’s ability to compete in a crowded market.
Unlocking greater productivity among staff is not new. However, as the report highlights, some managers use negative measures such as job cuts and more stringent targets to increase output. This is risky if positive drivers for increasing productivity are not also used. The study also indicates that directly consulting with staff about how to drive productivity up would make them feel more appreciated. Creating an ongoing two-way dialogue is therefore as important as any measure that is implemented.
A customised workplace
Many employers forget the positive role that the work environment can play in encouraging higher productivity rates. Workplace design should therefore cater to multiple working styles. Creating zones that encourage collaboration and creativity is perhaps the most important starting point. Increased interaction with peers can aid job satisfaction and drive creative ideas sharing, so designated breakout areas can directly facilitate this.
Collaborative working lends itself to open plan office spaces, but it is equally important to dedicate space to quiet concentration. This can be challenging in an open plan environment where noise pollution is an issue, so it is worth implementing quiet areas or even entirely separate rooms. In addition to this, including a defined area where employees can take a break and socialise can help provide the downtime needed to return to work refreshed and focused.
Of course the right surroundings need to be matched with a management style that encourages staff to work in a focused and targeted manner, if a firm is to maintain and grow its position.
As well as setting clear goals and objectives, it is important to ensure employees are given the parameters to use their initiative and show added value. Within the Smith Institute report, many of the survey respondents felt management often ignored their advice. Giving team members the freedom to make certain decisions and work with a level of autonomy therefore helps address this. The process is also easier to implement within teams where management can ensure that essential information about team performance and direction is regularly shared. Instead of waiting for a monthly catch up to do this, there should be a regular flow of updates and knowledge sharing that creates an inclusive culture that staff can feel a part of.
A balancing act
As well as encouraging a sense of sharing and inclusion, allowing staff to work flexibly can also provide a greater sense of motivation. However, it is just as important to ensure that staff don’t ‘burn out’, especially where they are working remotely without triggers to encourage downtime. This can be addressed by restricting access to emails and even the company server at key times throughout the day. Not only does this encourage a break, but it also forces both office-based and mobile employees to move away from their desks. For employees working from home, what can help is to create a defined home working station so when it is time to take a break, staff can physically move away from the area and properly recharge.
Empower team members
In addition to instilling an inclusive working culture and granting more decision-making power, investing in on-the-job training is an additional way of showing how much staff are valued. Examples of this include guidance on using work-related software, one-to-one mentoring and a range of refresher courses to ensure existing skills are up-to-scratch. Arming the workforce in this way can add to a feeling of ownership and drive higher productivity levels in the process.
As the Smith Institute report highlights, genuinely supporting the individual styles and well-being of the workforce has never been more important. This means that there is not a single solution to the issue. Instead there should be a collection of practical and cultural changes that need careful consideration. Without recognising the need to introduce, monitor and modify measures that go beyond mere lip service, the happiness of the UK’s workers and the ability of its businesses to compete are at serious risk.
By Nigel Crunden, business specialist at Office Depot