What Can Europe’s Employers Do to Boost Productivity?

Ten years on from the global economic crisis, growth in productivity across Europe is still slow at best, and the UK is lagging behind.

For the fourth annual Workforce View in Europe report, ADP questioned over 10,500 employees across eight countries. When asked their thoughts on barriers to productivity, employees listed the now familiar distractions — too many meetings, too many emails, inefficient processes and technology.

Not much has changed there since last year’s report, except that the top barrier, bad management, has become even more of a problem. Last year, 19% of Europe’s employees thought bad management was holding them back. This year, that has grown to 23%.

Whose fault is bad management?

It’s unlikely that managers become bad overnight. For someone to become a line manager they should have shown some initiative or ability to lead, assuming, of course, that an organisation has an effective appraisal system. Often, however, bad management can be traced back to lack of support from the very top.

If they’re to succeed, and help their staff be more productive, managers need:

  • Investment Development and support are vital if managers are to get the most out of their workforce. They need a structured process in place (which includes regular and frequent feedback) to build on their skills and competencies.
  • A clear vision Line managers have to translate the organisation’s growth strategy into goals for teams and individuals. It helps if the company has a distinct culture and everyone understands the common aims.
  • Communication ‘Bad management’ could just be poor communication. Employees need to understand the part their role plays in their organisation’s success. Communication must be two-way, not top down. Employers should make it easier for everyone in the workforce to contribute ideas and collaborate across the organisation.
  • The right tools Inefficient processes and slow technology can undermine a manager’s efforts. Disengagement often begins with relatively small frustrations and grows until an employee becomes noticeably less productive or leaves.

Of course, it’s easy for employees to blame their own failings on management, but the number of employees citing this as a problem is a cause for concern. Management is not the only problem, though. The Workforce View in Europe 2019 finds that stress and mental health issues continue to blight Europe’s workers. Although the figures are slightly down on the previous year, they are still worryingly high, with just one in eight workers saying that they never experience stress. More than one in six say they feel stressed at work every single day.

According to a recent EU study, poor mental health is costing Europe’s employers and health services €240 billion per year.1 An earlier EU-funded study, which included disability benefit payments and the effects on productivity of even minor work-related depression, put the cost as high as €620 billion annually.2

Some employers have seen the benefits of addressing mental health issues. Supporting staff with problems sends a positive message to other employees about the culture of the organisation. But we need to continue to look for ways to prevent stress becoming a major problem. Making sure workers have the right skills and support is a step in the right direction, as is helping them achieve the work-life balance they’re looking for.

There have been discussions about working a four-day week and this is something that merits further investigation. Long hours probably contribute to stress and don’t seem to have a significantly positive effect on productivity. Europe’s workers say they’re currently clocking up the equivalent of five hours unpaid overtime each week, yet one British company has just adopted a four-day week after a trial period in which output showed signs of growth.3

Perhaps surprisingly, 22% of Europe’s workers would be happy to work a four-day week with normal hours for reduced pay. Admittedly, that means that 78% wouldn’t, but employers looking for new ways to address productivity problems clearly need to listen to their employees.

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