Productivity killers and how to beat them in the workplace

Scotland B2B takes a look at some of the biggest productivity killers, from poor sleep to ailing loved ones, and what you, as an employer, can do about them.

Top productivity killers
  • Poor sleep
  • Caring commitments
  • Lack of motivation
Sickness absence and working-age ill health, including ailments caused by poor sleep, are costing the UK economy £100 billion a year, according to a new study carried out by the creators of a new sleep improvement app.
Big Health, which has developed an app entitled ‘Sleepio’, polled 2,500 people and found that workers in the UK lose, on average, 8.5 days of work a year because of poor sleep – with concentration, the ability to complete work and staying awake during the day the top three issues affecting them in the workplace.
What’s more, it’s research found that 60% of these poor sleepers make no attempt to fix the problem and generally don’t consult their doctors about bad sleep even though 60%, 48% and 35% respectively also say their energy levels, mood and personal relationships have suffered.
In short, according to Big Health, bad sleepers are missing twice as many days as other employees.
Big Health co-founder Colin Espie, who is a professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford, said: “It’s important that we recognise the widespread effects poor sleep has on our lives, especially during the winter months.
“Sleep affects us on various levels – mentally, emotionally and physically – so when we have had no or insufficient sleep, we feel the consequences.
“Physically we will feel lethargic and sleepy, mentally we become slowed down with poorer concentration and memory, and emotionally we may become irritable and rather down, with bursts of hyperactivity.”
But whose responsibility is it and what can employers do to help?
“Poor sleep is a huge productivity killer which has been ignored for too long,” says Big Health CEO and co-founder Peter Hames.
“But employers are now starting to wake up to sleep – we’re working with some of the world’s leading companies to help them improve the sleep of their workforces with Sleepio, and seeing massive improvements in effectiveness and general health as a result.”
The World Sleep Survey has been running on an ongoing basis since April 2014. It currently contains information from over 20,000 respondents from more than 170 countries, with more than 2,500 full-time employees based in the UK. Big Health plans to release additional insights from the World Sleep Survey in the new year.
Add your input here. 
But poor sleep isn’t the only productivity killer.
Research carried out by Willis PMI Group towards the end of 2015 revealed that caring responsibilities impact the working lives of nearly a quarter of Scottish workers.
The study found that at least 24% of Scottish employees have taken time off work or worked irregular hours to care for a family member.
Although 33% have benefited from flexible working to do so, nearly two-fifths (39%) have used their annual holiday allowance and a further 10% have taken sick leave.
Mike Blake, director at Willis PMI, says flexible working is at least part of the answer: “Although employees have a legal right to take time off to deal with emergencies involving dependents, those having to juggle work with ongoing caring responsibilities can feel under considerable pressure and may even be forced to give up work.
“There is a strong business case for offering flexible working options, with such provisions improving productivity and cutting costs by reducing staff turnover and absenteeism.”
Legislation introduced last year has given all employees with 26 weeks of service the right to request flexible working. The Willis PMI Group study, however, found that just 28 per cent of workers in Scotland are aware of this entitlement, the lowest in the UK and considerably lower than the national average (42 per cent).
Furthermore, only 44 per cent believe their employer would accept a request for flexible working in any case to help them manage their work-life balance.
“Family life demands can be extremely challenging and faced with an ageing population, eldercare responsibilities are set to rise,” adds Blake.
“The workplace will need to keep pace to ensure the health, wellbeing and motivation of staff is not compromised.”
A recent report by independent think tank the Resolution Foundation cited productivity as the key to higher wages in the UK.
In response, Group Risk Development (GRiD) – the industry body for corporate group protection – published the following statistics to reveal how employers are feeling the effects of lost productivity and how they are working to combat its effects:  
  • A quarter of employers (23%) believe productivity is an issue for their business and are trying to identify and tackle the factors weighing down their growth
  • Promoting flexible working and investing in the wellbeing and fitness of their staff for long-term gain are popular measures
  • Working from home and compressed hours ranked highest as measures to combat productivity, with nearly a third (29%) of employers saying they promoted this
  • A quarter (24%) of businesses invest in new equipment
  • 22% of employers are encouraging their staff to be more active
  • 18% are encouraging staff to improve their health
  • Just 6% have invested in fitness technology
GRiD spokesperson Katharine Moxham said: “The productivity puzzle is not just an intangible issue: smaller businesses are now seeing their ability to achieve their growth potential hindered. It’s clear from these results that employers are starting to recognise the importance of acting to combat losses and are implementing a range of measures, which in itself is encouraging, but central to improvement is staff wellbeing.
“Ill health, stress and, therefore, absence can still strike. When they do, they have a significant impact over the long-term, so there is clearly more to be done to prevent this from becoming a continuous drain on the business. Group income protection products may seem like an extra step to take, but they are hugely effective in keeping people in the workplace and giving them the support they need. At the end of the day, a business grows on the people behind the ideas and their delivery, so investing the time and effort in ensuring staff retention, support and motivation is kept up is key.”
Motivate me or I’m changing job!
The psychological force of employee motivation will not only determine the direction of a person’s behaviour in an organisation, their effort and their persistence, but its impact on the business as a whole.  More than ever in our rapidly changing workplace, managers need to understand employee motivation and act on it before loyalty is lost, according to cognitive neuroscientist and business psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw.
Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year. So what exactly does keep us engaged and motivated?  There are two basic types of motivators and both play an important role according to Shaw. The first is internal motivation which is to do with pride, work ethic and a passion for the work itself.  Shaw explains: “This type of motivation comes from within ourselves and pushes us to always do the best we can.  Intrinsic motivation often stems from curiosity and something we enjoy.  It enables self-development which on the surface seems selfish, but is in actual fact the way we develop a broad range of transferable skills to overcome different types of challenges.”
The second type is external motivation, which include rewards such as money, a nice office, promotions etc. Therefore, extrinsic motivation is inspired by specific rewards.  Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is associated with the activity of the neurochemical dopamine.
Research done by McKinsey & Company found that for people with satisfactory salaries, some nonfinancial motivators are more effective than extra cash in building long-term employee engagement.  Shaw says: “We know for example that praise from managers, attention from our leaders, and our opinions and our ideas being heard can be as effective or even more effective than the short term boost of pay rises, bonuses or shares in the company. Treating our employees with dignity and respect seems to outweigh giving them cash in hand to motivate them.”
Showing you trust your employees is another motivator, whether it be working from home when they need to, taking on a role that maybe outside their comfort zone or taking things to a whole new level as business mogul Richard Branson who employs over 65,000 individuals has done.  Last year the Virgin boss announced that his staff can take leave from their jobs whenever they want as long as it does not have a negative impact on the business, giving employees both flexibility and the responsibility of deciding when they can take time off.
“There has been a lot of research into a brain chemical called oxytocin, which enhances pro-social behaviour and one area is that of trust.  Experiments show that when people feel trusted they produce more oxytocin in the brain.  And the more oxytocin they produce the more they become trustworthy and of course, the reward centres in the brain are activated too thus helping us feel great.  To add to this delicious cocktail when we trust someone they trust us back.”
With a third of our day spent at work, Shaw says it is imperative that we enjoy it but not necessarily give in to gimmicks.  “There is pressure on bosses to provide the workplace with slides, juice bars, chef catered lunches, segways and team holidays, because a handful of certain large wealthy companies have been able to do so.  Most companies can’t afford these sorts of gimmicks but team-building activities chosen by the team, Christmas parties and pizzas being bought in when employees are having to work late are deemed to show employees that they are appreciated and also help them build social/ work relationships as well.
“There are many dynamics to consider to build a successful team, but one of the key areas is that of emotional intelligence (EQ).  Each team member needs to understand and consider the others as well as themselves.  Therefore, the more a team gets to know one another in a relaxed creative environment the more efficient and healthy they will be.
“I always say to CEO’s when I am running workshops, employee motivation is about a two-way relationship.  An old phrase comes to mind and seems appropriate: ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’.
Here are Dr Lynda Shaw’s top tips for employee motivation: 
  1. Take an interest in the future path of an employee’s career – it will improve their attitude if employees feel like you care about their career.Work with each employee to create their own personal development plan.
  1. Listen to your employees it shows that you respect them as individuals and that they are valued as part of the team.
  1. Figure out your employees’ personalities so that you can make the right motivational choices. For example, some people love to be praised in front of others whereas others would be embarrassed.
  1. Encourage your employees to be creative and also when appropriate to laugh with them at their mistakes. This will mean that they won’t be afraid to take calculated risks. It’s a waste if employees have great ideas but are afraid to voice them.
  1. Once in a while, you have put work aside and do something nice for the people who work for you. So order a pizza or let everyone leave early on a Friday every once in a while.Provide incentives and a little competition never hurt anyone!

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