Insurance · 10 May 2017

Low productivity levels blamed on negative working culture

Taylor review
The Taylor review is set to be published after the general election in June 2017

A culture of “bad work” has developed in Britain, according to the man leading a government review into employment practices.

In an annual speech to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), of which Matthew Taylor is chief executive, the economist warned a “cog in the machine” working culture had negatively impacted Britain’s productivity levels.

Despite record levels of employment recently reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Taylor claimed “persistent scandals of working conditions” undermined the high number of people in work.

New research published by the RSA found three-quarter of Britons thought the quality of jobs in the UK needed to be improved, and Taylor emphasised the wider effect of a poor working culture.

“As we all know the UK has a productivity problem. This problem is complex and multifaceted but there is little doubt that one facet is bad work,” Taylor told the audience.

Recent research suggested unhappy employees were 12 per cent less productive than those positive about their job.

“Despite the evidence that employee engagement contributes to higher productivity, overall levels of reported employee engagement are low in the UK by international standards,” Taylor said, adding the number of low-skilled workers reporting no freedom in their role increased by 15 per cent in the last ten years.

A failure by employers to invest in their workforce was highlighted by Taylor as a central reason for a negative working culture developing in Britain.

“Levels of investment in employee training and learning is less than half of that of our European competitors and have fallen even further in recent years,” he said.

Responding to Taylor’s comments on Britain’s working culture, Mike Taylor, managing director at business consultancy Accelerating Experience, said a new approach was needed whereby government and employers recognised the link between “bad work” and low productivity.

“The way we work is evolving, with more of us working for ourselves, part-time or with greater flexibility, so it’s imperative that government and employers adapt their approach to meet the needs of this growing pool of people dependent on choice and agility.

“Without a clear step change, employee engagement and productivity will continue to be low with a consequent impact on business bottom lines,” Taylor said in a statement.

Developing a positive working culture

Smaller employers could have an edge over large companies in developing the flexible and aspirational working culture demanded by workers.

Sharing top-line company information and keeping employees up to date with business progress can increase engagement among staff. To boost creativity, small business owners could consider redesigning an office into different working zones.

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Simon Caldwell is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and has previously worked as a content editor in local government and the ecommerce industry.