What are the main challenges and barriers to productivity and profit right now, and how can business leaders overcome them?
Business decision-makers understand the relationship between productivity and profit. Simply put: the more productive a business is overall, the more profitable they are as a whole. This productivity is influenced by top-level decision-makers but really comes down to each employee.
However, as social and economic pressures mount due to COVID-19, there is increasing difficulty for businesses to ensure that their employees are able to remain productive. Whether it be the result of necessary remote working and furloughing, or wider economic uncertainty from the pandemic, it is clear that decision-makers need to account for the demands of these unprecedented times.
According to the Office of National Statistics, nearly 50 per cent of British workers are currently confined to their kitchen tables, with many finding it difficult to reach the same productivity as in an office environment. This is a fundamental hit to productivity as existing workers feel unable to reach their full potential in home environments. This is concerning given that the United Kingdom’s long-standing productivity crisis was still being felt even before the arrival of coronavirus, and has been on a gradual decline since the 2008 recession.
For businesses, this provides a significant incentive to understand what these barriers to productivity are and how to overcome them, so as to generate the best possible performance out of their people. So what exactly are those barriers and how can they support their employees?
WORKING ENVIRONMENTS – THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT IS KEY
Working environments play an enormous role in determining productivity. In the traditional workplace, this comes down to factors such as available IT resources, available work space and the ability to communicate effectively. The same is true of remote working where having to use less optimised personal devices, being confined to cramped spaces, or having difficulty in speaking with colleagues can hamper productivity. When employees don’t have the right equipment to hand it can make tasks that are traditionally quick and easy to resolve much slower. As a result, employees suddenly find that their usual tasks are taking longer than normal and this can create a demotivating environment for them, reducing their productivity.
Moreover, consideration should also be given to what kind of stress these new work environments are placing on employees. Employees can become stressed as they fail to find reward in their work due to the additional complications and pressures of having to perform tasks in new environments. This is compounded when they are faced with challenging objectives or tight deadlines that can build upon that stress.
With all this in mind, employers need to give due consideration to how they can best provide their employees with a productive work environment. The first step is – where possible – ensuring that workers have the right equipment. Whether this be laptops, phones or online resources, workers should have as many tools available as they would in their regular office. Employers should also consider alternatives to the tech infrastructure their workers need if their traditional solutions aren’t available.
HANDLING STRESS – AND ESPECIALLY FINANCES
COVID-19 has inevitably created wider stresses for individuals outside of the workplace. Social distancing and concerns for the health of themselves or their family and friends may be stress factors for many employees. This, combined with adjusting to new working conditions, can create an even bigger obstacle to productivity.
One particular stress that has become particularly prevalent at this time is financial stress. For many there may be unexpected bills to pay or they may be coping with reduced household income due to family members being on furlough or having their businesses close. This stress can be further accelerated for workers who may be compelled to use payday loans that, in the long term, will only lead to an increased financial burden. Alternatively, they may have to start using their savings to supplement their income. In either case, this is an unnecessary pressure for an already stretched workforce.
This is not exclusive to the pandemic, though: it can be at any moment in time. According to our most recent Workplace Wellbeing Study, a fifth of workers admit to wasting working hours dealing with repayments. The same study found that most respondents felt that financial stress impacts their work, as well as their health, sleep, social lives and relationships. As such, it’s important this stress is handled to maximise productivity.
So what can business leaders do to help their workers? They could be offering general best practice on how to handle stress as well as putting any relevant technology and human resources initiatives in place. And, when it comes to financing, businesses could implement technology that helps reduce this burden. For example, by offering their workers the option of earnings-on-demand so individuals have access to their money whenever they need it in advance of a monthly pay cycle or payment. This might help during unprecedented times or in day-to-day life such as shopping or bill payments. Similarly, increasing liquidity for employees provides them access to income when needed urgently without negative repercussions down the line.
While employers can only go so far in helping their employees outside of working environments, any steps or measures can make a big difference.
BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS
While it may seem a minor consideration at this time, the often silent financial struggles UK workers face, in addition to other factors like working environments, are weaving a thread of poor productivity throughout our workforces. However, employers can tackle this head-on by looking at ways they can mitigate some of the stresses and burdens of COVID-19 and beyond.
Whether this be providing the right tech infrastructure, offering best practice or more directly actively offering financial support to their teams, business decision-makers have a lot of power to battle the productivity slump. By supporting their employees where it counts, they can be relieved of some stress and can be empowered to focus on the tasks at hand.