Everyone's talking about productivity. Are you on it?



A lack of productivity is affecting UK business output and profitability. We look at what you can do to get more from your employees to drive business success.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past year, you’ll know that the UK is facing a massive productivity crisis. It seems that while the country may have low unemployment, its businesses and their staff are struggling to make every hour of work count. 

Why does this matter? Well, if you care about your company’s growth and staff wellbeing then it should.

It means you’re less likely to be growing and thriving as a business – dare we throw the word stagnating in there for good measure? It seems to have been invented to go hand in hand with matters of productivity, staff performance, profitability and overall company output. All areas that any HR department will be all too familiar with.

So, what’s making us less productive as a nation?


1. Lack of investment 

Poor productivity has been put down to a number of factors, ranging from lack of investment to employee churn and talent shortages. Ever since the financial crisis, economic wellbeing has been patchy to say the least. It’s led to a lack of investment by organisations faced with greater uncertainty due to events like Brexit and Trumpism.

We’re not alone in the UK either. Many other countries are feeling the effects of sluggish productivity. Ben Broadbent, Deputy Governor at the Bank of England says, “Productivity has just about slowed in every advanced economy.”

Sodexo’s ‘Move, Mould, Motivate: An Essential Guide to Employee Engagement’ study found that having the right tools for the job has a direct impact on productivity. The report revealed that 72% of employees think that technology is important to their overall productivity in the workplace. If you’re not investing in your people, it stands to reason that they won’t be as effective as they could be.

The study shows that better equipped managers and investment in technology will help to transform behaviour and open new avenues for growth down the line.

Iain Thomson, Sodexo’s Director of Incentive and Recognition says, “Productivity and each individual’s ability to do exceptional work is becoming more dependent on the tools they’re provided with.”

Yet many organisations are still playing catch up.

2.  Poor employee health and wellbeing 

Employee health and wellbeing is getting businesses and their people down. Research from Bupa into the impact of employee health on small businesses suggests that 76% of organisations have reported a significant impact on business growth, as a result of an employee taking a long sickness absence. If your people aren’t turning up, they simply can’t do good work.

What can companies do to ensure good attendance?

Well, firstly, a sound absenteeism policy is crucial. Employee health and wellbeing benefits can promote physical resilience and even help to keep staff members fit and well. Whether it’s a gym membership or a cycle-to-work scheme, there are plenty of ways to encourage health and wellbeing at work. Find out more about employee benefits providers here.

We know that stress related illnesses can lead to prolonged periods of time off work. In fact, according the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), in 2015/16, over 480,000 people in the UK reported that work-related stress was making them ill. That’s around 40% of all work-related illness. Employers should seek to cut the stress by looking at workloads and ways to help teams work more efficiently. 

Companies are now wising up to the importance of good mental health at work, with many offering on-site access to counsellors and support. By creating a positive workplace culture that shows a caring side, you can begin to engage with employees to build trust and good feeling. That in turn can help people to feel appreciated, leading to higher levels of motivation.

Another ball in the net for employee engagement.

3.     A focus on presenteeism not results

Where overworked and stressed out employees lead to a lack of productivity, some blame must be placed at the door of the UK’s culture of presenteeism. Many organisations favour the traditional way of working that leads to people sitting at their desks for many hours more than they’re actually paid to.

It might look good but nobody is really impressed if you’re not hitting your targets each week.

Graham Allcott, founder of Think Productive places great emphasis on the ability for UK employees to work flexibly. He says, “We work too many hours in the UK right now. Not enough rest equals substandard performance, while working shorter hours changes people’s mindset for the better.”

The thought is, that when you know you have shorter shifts, there’s less time for water cooler chat, and more time spent actually being productive.

Ask any working parent who has to run out the door to collect a young child, and they’ll tell you it’s true. When your deadlines are more streamlined and everyone knows what’s expected of them, you start to see greater results.

It’s a question of empowering the employee through trust, autonomy and greater communication. James Malia, Sodexo, calls it an important way of enabling “creativity and autonomy.” Central to the theme of creativity is innovation, and it’s how many SMEs and start-ups are leading UK business success stories.

4.     A high turnover of staff

Employee retention is a serious business for companies, with it reportedly costing around £30,000 to replace a single member of staff, according to Oxford Economics. A high turnover of employees can lead to the rest of your workforce being driven to the limit, which increases stress, leaving you with another can of worms to deal with.

The astronomical cost of replacing a member of staff just doesn’t bear thinking about. Plus, that’s before you even consider what a drain the recruitment process is in itself.

Time spent interviewing and getting new recruits up to speed can take managers away from more pressing daily tasks, and that leads to – yes, you guessed it, lost productivity. It’s an age-old problem for organisations wanting to drive business success stories and create a positive workplace culture.

“Keeping hold of top talent is really important for any organisation wanting to grow and thrive in a competitive market,” says Sodexo’s UK Head of Sales and Client Services, Jonathan Bedford.

5.     The millennial dream

Millennials will soon make up 75% of the UK’s workforce and they’re a fickle bunch. They expect much more from their employer than the usual list of staff benefits and incentives. Keeping hold of millennial staff will be a major hurdle for UK employers.

In fact, Deloitte found that an eye-watering two-thirds of millennials hope to have moved on to another employer by 2020. Job-hopping is a growing trend with the modern workforce less willing to commit long term to their company. After all, there’s nothing stopping them.

Unemployment is low so it’s a candidate’s market. Unhappy employees – millennial or otherwise – can well afford to investigate the carrots dangled by prospective head hunters and the like. And with it taking employers an average of 28 weeks to get a new recruit up to speed, this can only lead to groans all round.

Millennials will be at the heart of the UK’s productivity drive. Keep them sweet and you’ll reap rewards. But how?


Organisations want productivity and growth, employees want work-life balance. So how do we achieve both? The answer lies in employee engagement.

The Sodexo ‘Move, Mould, Motivate: An Essential Guide to Employee Engagement’ study states that employee engagement is the opposite of employee burnout. It can even lead to 37% lower absenteeism and 41% fewer safety incidents. Far from being cynical or weary of their roles, engaged employees are full of energy, optimism and are seemingly higher performers than their fatigued counterparts.

So, look around. What do you see? Do you see inspired, motivated individuals, full of enthusiasm for their work? Or do you see something else?

If you’re not sure whether your employees are as productive as they can be, here are a few starters for ten. They should offer some insight into current workplace engagement:

  1. Do you have a high turnover of staff?
  2. Do you have a positive workplace culture?
  3. Do you have low absenteeism?
  4. Are employees full of ideas they’re willing to share?
  5. Would staff recommend the company to others?

go forth and inspire engagement 

If you answered no to any of the above questions, take heart. By focusing on employee engagement, you can help your people find meaning in their work that has far reaching consequences for your business.

“If we want to influence people, we have to both educate them on the effects of their behaviour and motivate them in such a way that they become ready and willing to make that change,” explains Iain Thomson. “This all boils down to effective communication and emotional empathy.”

To instil the kind of passion, energy and commitment that comes from the benefits of employee engagement, your workforce has to feel the same kind of passion as you do.

Give them engagement tools and the environment to get their work done well and start from there. Lead by example and make positive changes to help your people feel valued. By understanding and investing in the individual, you can help to build your organisation by empowering the people in it.

Start small, but think big. It’s what we’d do.

What's the future of engagement all about?