Why now is the time to work smarter, not harder [new research]

07 April 2016 -


A survey from The Smith Institute reveals British workers are putting in longer hours without reaping the rewards of improved productivity

Matt Scott

British workers are working harder but not smarter, according to new research from think-tank The Smith Institute.

The survey found that 68% of employees say they are working harder than two years ago, but less than half (49%) say they are being more productive in their work.

Paul Hackett, director of The Smith Institute, said the survey showed businesses needed to do more to focus on the human element of productivity and engage better with workers.

“All the focus on solving the productivity puzzle is on short-term cost savings, robotics, and system change,” he told Insights. “These factors obviously have a role to play, but a big part of the answer lies with the workforce itself and making it work better.

“Our survey shows that employees not only understand the need for productivity improvements but want to share in the benefits. The vast majority are currently working harder not smarter. Their frustration is being ignored and excluded from the changes that affect their work.”

Speaking to Insights in January, Sir Professor Cary Cooper, one of the lead authors of the CMI Quality of Working Life report, said the ‘long hours culture’ made him fear for the future of the UK economy and the workers that drive it.

“The long hours culture is very worrying,” he said. “We have a productivity issue in the UK: we are seventh in the G7 and seventeenth in the G20 on productivity per capita. What country is one of the top in the world for productivity per capita? Germany. What is the average hours of work in Germany? 35, one of the lowest in the world.”

Managers need to engage and listen


Of the 7,454 workers surveyed, more than a quarter said their employer did not listen to their suggestions for productivity or efficiency improvements in the workplace (see right).

Hackett said this was evidence that too many managers are failing to properly engage with their staff.

“Management is all too often not properly engaging the workforce and failing to offer the right incentives and rewards,” he said. “We need a new deal at work on productivity which is 'people based' and values employee voice."

CMI’s own research, Quality of Working Life, found that managers report being twice as productive within the best management regime.

Where managers are innovative, 43% of managers rate their personal productivity as 90% or better; if managers are secretive or suspicious, only 20% score highly for personal productivity.

CMI chief executive Ann Francke said: “The impact on managers’ work is great: the longer the hours they put in, the less productive they say they become. This should be a big, flashing warning light for employers.

“Good, skilled managers know that they need to switch off and allow their employees to do the same. The Quality of Working Life report highlights the difference that good management makes to wellbeing, to engagement and ultimately to performance.

“The conclusion is inescapable: helping managers to strike the necessary work/life balance must be a priority for every organisation facing up to the challenge of improving productivity.”

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