• Two-thirds of staff waste at least an hour a day at work

  • 30 Jun 2017
  • Comments 4 comments

Training, development and employee engagement all critical for improving productivity, experts say

Two-thirds of employees admit they waste at least an hour a day at work, research has revealed.

The report, Productivity in the UK by Capita Workforce Management Solutions, also found just one in three (32 per cent) managers feel their business is very productive, but around three-quarters (71 per cent) do not measure employee productivity at all.

When asked what prevents them being productive, a third of the 250 workers from blue-collar industries questioned said talking to colleagues, which just over half (51 per cent) of the 255 managers surveyed agreed with. Around a quarter (23 per cent) of workers said bad management was a cause of poor productivity, while 44 per cent of management respondents blamed tea and smoking breaks for low productivity levels.

“The findings are higher than I expected, but the way some people define ‘wasting’ time is different to how others might interpret it,” Katie Bailey, professor of management in the University of Sussex’s department of business and management, told People Management. 

“For example, many employees often don’t take a lunch break and sit at their desk to have something to eat as they carry on working instead. Work intensity, however, is increasing; more and more people in a lot of industries are working under immense pressure and at high speed, so the idea of wasting time runs counter to that.” 

HR has a key part to play in boosting workplace productivity, said Bailey. “Training, development, employee engagement and investment in employees’ progress are all vital to improving productivity, as is enhancing your management style,” she said. “Workforce planning and succession planning, as well as making sure employees have the equipment they need to do their jobs effectively, also have significant roles.”

Ian Brinkley, acting chief economist at the CIPD, agreed that measuring productivity was important: “It drives living standards, wages and economic growth. The lack of a more agreed common measure means businesses have little way of objectively comparing themselves against the industry norm or the statistics published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), hence most businesses rate themselves as above average,” he said.

Brinkley added that, although most companies are aware of productivity – they know it matters and they think they are measuring it – they “use measures of general business performances such as sales, profitability and market share”. 

The Capita survey is not the first study to warn of the UK’s lagging productivity levels. ONS figures showed Britain was 15.9 per cent below the average productivity level in the rest of the G7 countries in 2015.

Meanwhile, a survey by organisation development consultancy h2h, published earlier this week, discovered that more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of managers felt underprepared when they took on their first management role and a similar proportion (74 per cent) spend the majority of their time doing something other than managing their team.


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Comments (4)
  • It seems to me that a good deal more work needs to be done before time spent making tea or chatting with colleagues can be described as "wasted time" or "lost productivity".

    Is an employee more productive slogging away thoughtlessly for eight hours a day, or delivering seven hours of intelligent, engaged and thoughtful work, because they are able to step away occasionally to "waste time"?

    We know the limits of human attention and we understand far better the qualities of experience that provide engaged and interested employees, so why are we still thinking of productivity in terms of "hours spent at the coalface"?

    Also, am I alone in being surprised that as many as a quarter of surveyed managers actually get to spend the majority of their time managing their teams?  Perhaps these are the managers who are being allowed to help their staff to be productive instead of being perpetually distracted by meetings, reporting and higher-level work that cannot be delegated.

  • I have worked with people who have worked long into the night, over weekends and vacations. Whilst praised by management they are never as productive as the people who work 6/7 hours.

    Getting staff to be productive should not be about the number of hours they work, but rather HOW they work.

  • The mention of 'talking' and 'tea and smoking breaks' as wasting time reminds of a book I read in the early 1990s about Business Process Re-engineering (and have seen repeated many times since). The book opens by recounting the story of an engineering department where the manager notices that his engineers are spending time away from their desk just chatting at the water cooler. He decides to put a stop to this time wasting and issues various threats against anyone spending more time at the cooler than it takes to get a cup of water. True enough his engineers spend much less time away from their desks, and shortly productivity takes a sharp nose dive both in terms of volume and quality of output. The authors (business consultants) then explain that when they were brought in to find out why they found that this 'chatting' was actually engineers getting advice from each other, bouncing ideas off each other and carrying out informal training of each other by sharing experience and what they had read or learned recently.

    Whilst that probably was a major factor, based on my experience at a variety of workplaces, I suspect that equally important was the agency felt by the workers. People who feel they have control of their destiny, that they are valued, and they are trusted will go above and beyond to deliver. Even something as simple as they are not using energy and laying awake at night worrying about their job security means they have more energy to commit to work. Workers who feel they have no control, are just interchangeable cogs and are constantly watched by a management who are trying to catch them out and remove their ability to feed, clothe and house themselves and their family are going to be unmotivated to do more than the safe minimum to keep their job. Additionally they are likely to be using their energy in worrying about job security, laying awake at night and looking for something less bad.

  • I started work in the late 1970s there were 8 Bank Holidays & its still 8 days nearly 40 years on! Simply we spend too much time at work hence high levels of absenteeism and when we are there often for a frozen or minimum wage & in my experience, the employees will tell you that means minimum effort - after all why bust a gut if your only marginally better off employed in the first place.

    In the past the Great British worker went on strike when not a happy bunny nowadays they drop a sickie or turn up and do as little as possible given the chance.......dismissal or disciplinary action and off they go to the next low paid minimum effort job down the road. Somethings got to change - over to the next HR generation on that one!