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Here are a range of factors that can impact employee productivity and how to improve them.

At an economic level, productivity is a major issue for the UK Government. Workers are no more productive now than they were on the eve of the financial crisis and there is a productivity gap of 16% when comparing the UK to the other six members of the G7 group of industrial nations[1].

Productivity at an individual employee level is no less important. UK businesses that improve the productivity of their staff are likely to have greater profitability as well as happier and more fulfilled, engaged staff.

It is important to keep in mind that not everybody operates in the same way and being flexible with your staff can often mean creating a better working environment and increased engagement. For example, flexible working not only has the benefit of improving work-life balance but can also have a positive influence on overall employee health. Allowing employees to fit in time to exercise, drop off and collect their children from school or start/finish earlier or later can make an enormous difference to productivity. It also demonstrates that employers care about their staff and are prepared to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to ensure employees work at their best.

Developing a culture in the workplace that supports the needs of employees can also be impacted by the working environment. Ensuring employees have a comfortable place to work can have a big effect on efficiency. Over 10 million people in England and Scotland alone have persistent back pain according to Arthritis Research UK and 30.8 million working days were lost in 2016 because of musculoskeletal problems[2].  Whilst not all of these lost work days will be caused by poor office equipment, ensuring employees are physically supported with properly adjusted seating can help to reduce time lost to musculoskeletal conditions. Similarly, making sure work spaces are well lit and properly ventilated will prevent loss of productivity due to employee discomfort.

Aside from physical comfort, another seemingly obvious but often overlooked solution to output issues is having the right tools for employees to carry out tasks. This means keeping work equipment updated and in good working order as, according to electronics company Sharp, the average British employee wastes 40 minutes a day because of slow technology[3]. This can also be applied in reverse: having all the tools but no training of how to use them is just as detrimental to productivity. Ensuring adequate investment and budgeting for equipment and training can improve productivity levels both in the short term and help future-proof businesses.

Interest and engagement in health and wellbeing has increasingly become more mainstream over the last few years, giving rise to trends such as clean eating and intermittent fasting. Promoting good health within the workplace can positively impact employees, not only by ensuring they feel valued but by improving health and fitness and therefore reducing days lost to illness. Simple solutions include offering free gym memberships, cycle to work schemes, regularly communicating the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise and offering nutritious options such as fresh fruit.

There are also products that can be offered to employees through corporate benefits packages. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) help if an employee is struggling with issues at work (e.g. stress, problems with other employees) or in their personal lives (e.g. debt or finding childcare/eldercare) but also allow employers to communicate messages around healthy eating and living. EAPs can be a separate benefit but are often provided for free alongside Group Income Protection products. If serious health problems or injuries do occur, employers that provide Group Income Protection can be assured that not only will staff be financially supported during their absence, but vocational rehabilitation services will ensure that a return to work is made as soon as is medically appropriate. Ensuring employees have access to a range of protection solutions will ensure staff feel they have a robust support system to help them should they need it.

Overall, the key to improving productivity is clear: prioritise employees. Whether that be promoting a care culture, offering wider protection benefits or ensuring staff have the fundamental access to tools, training and a healthy working environment to carry out their job, putting workers first and addressing their needs is the best way of encouraging greater output. Not only will these initiatives help create a better and more productive workplace, they will also undoubtedly attract future employees – a crucial weapon in the war to retain and attract talent.

[1] Office of National Statistics, International comparisons of UK productivity

[2] Arthritis Research UK, State of musculoskeletal health 2017

[3] Sharp survey cited in Bloomberg

Paul Avis, Marketing Director, Canada Life Group Insurance