February 24, 2016

Is productivity stifled by workplace procedures?

UK employees are stifled by rule-heavy, over-stuffy workplace environments. And this situation is hindering productivity, according to research from the CIPD’s 2015 Employee Outlook Survey.

Productivity is rarely out of the business press. We have run numerous posts on the topic ourselves. There are countless stories and pieces of research about declining levels of productivity in the UK, despite the countless initiatives and strategies to improve productivity.

When employers and HR start talking about raising productivity – and employers and HR talk about raising productivity a lot – several key words are usually on the agenda: motivation, employee engagement, business alignment and training, to name a few. However, other aspects of the workplace are easily overlooked, but are just as important, according to the CIPD research of 2,000 UK employees.

It claims that rule-heavy, over-stuffy UK workplaces mean that employees face significant hurdles at work and these hurdles are hindering their ability to be properly productive. What are the biggest hurdles? Two productivity killers gained top ranking, cited by 28% of employees in both cases. One was ‘unnecessary rules and procedures’ and ‘not having the right resources available’ was the other.

Not far behind was office politics. Almost a quarter (24%) of respondents said office politics were a real problem and stifled creativity.

Claire McCartney, research adviser at the CIPD, says that these unnecessary rules and procedures, the lack of proper, available resources and office politics are having such a negative effect on employee morale that productivity is affected. “It’s easy to forget the most important perspective on the productivity debate is that of employees themselves,” says McCartney. “The answer is much simpler than many would probably assume. Employer can help employees use their skills and ideas by focusing on developing leaders and line managers who empower rather than control staff and by designing jobs which provide sufficient autonomy.”

Of course, as any good HR professional is well aware, employee motivation and engagement are hugely affected by issues such as office politics and being able to do a job effectively and with a proper degree of autonomy. The CIPD’s research demonstrates this – 17% of disengaged workers say they are unproductive, compared to only 3% of engaged workers.

Despite all of the evidence that employee engagement leads to greater productivity and numerous organisational schemes to enhance employee engagement, levels are falling. Overall employee engagement has dropped from by 3%, down to 36%, since the previous annual survey.

As well as asking employees what they didn’t like about their jobs and what hindered their productivity, the CIPD survey asked them what aspects enhanced productivity. Being given interesting work topped the results at 40%, followed closely by employees being able to use their own initiative (39%) and being given tasks that complement their skills set (25%).

There are some very clear messages here for employers and for HR, messages that are repeated and reinforced by studies and anecdotal evidence all the time.

To read DPG’s previous posts on productivity, see here: