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Time to replace apathy with ambition in the British workplace

Following a wonderful panel discussion at the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, I am delighted to launch our Britain at Work study.

As a consultancy which advises organisations on issues which affect employees and other stakeholders, Lansons was keen to understand more about the modern workplace. The UK is emerging from the downturn, with the economy returning to growth and unemployment steadily falling over the last couple of years.

And yet we seem to be working longer hours, with an increase in workplace stress, a lack of investment in skills and training and issues around productivity.

Our panellist, Professor Sir Cary Cooper (Professor of Organisatonal Psychology & Health at Manchester Business School) suggested that technology is impacting our productivity and that the UK workforce in particular, is taking the email culture too far instead of engaging in more productive forms of communication such as phone calls and face-to-face meetings.

As Lansons has a specific interest in employee engagement, we also felt it was important to bring the employee voice to the debate around the modern workplace.

In my view the study paints a picture of a hardworking UK workforce but one which is suffering from fatigue and possibly apathy (one in four employees say they feel apathy towards their workplace). We get on well with colleagues and like our working environment. Interestingly, we feel our jobs are secure and think we’re fairly paid – does this suggest a possible complacency? And of course, we think our CEO is over-paid – that is when we actually know who the CEO is…

We need to build more pride in the workplace. 51% of us would not recommend our employer which is a deep concern, as around half of us would also be reluctant to recommend the sector we work in.

Charles Fair (Head of Consultancy at Great Place to Work Institute) declared that younger workers are digitally savvy and perhaps do not tolerate as much dissatisfaction in the workplace as older workers, in relation to working conditions, progression opportunities, rules and regulations and line managers.

The quality of line management is also a real issue with around one third of British workers feeling they are not listened to (perhaps a contributor to apathy). Professor Cooper remarked that there does not seem to be enough socially and interpersonally skilled line managers. He suggested that one cause of this could be MBA programs – many are knowledge-based and are perhaps not properly equipping professionals with the skills needed to manage people effectively. Fellow panellist Sabrina Clarke (Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Barclays) added that whilst it is important to promote deep technical specialists, employers must also ensure that they are given the training and develop the skills to manage people.

Another of our panellists, Neil Carberry (Director, Employment & Skills at CBI) emphasised the importance of ROI in training. He proposed that what matters most is that training and up-skilling employees helps them to perform better in their roles now and not just in the future.

Sabrina Clarke added that the development and training of workers is a collective leadership responsibility, not only that of HR departments.

Charles Cotton (Performance & Reward Adviser at CIPD) strongly suggested that employers were not taking recognition and reward seriously enough and there needs to be a closer correlation between behaviours, performance and pay.

Many UK workers are regularly working beyond our contracted hours, sacrificing social and family arrangements. Indeed we give up nearly a whole working day every week beyond our contracted hours. This does not seem sustainable and presents a clear and present danger to the UK’s economic recovery.

Workplace bullying was a topic which ignited a passionate debate amongst the audience and panellists, with everyone in the room agreeing on the unfortunate fact that bullying is often ignored in the workplace if that manager is good at their job and that the bottom line frequently trumps worker wellbeing.

We are glad the Britain at Work study has already sparked an important debate on the modern workplace. I hope you enjoy the report and encourage you to add your view by using the hashtag #BritainAtWork on twitter or emailing your thoughts to us at britainatwork@lansons.com.