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Research reveals five main causes of poor workplace productivity

Poor systems, office politics and sickness absence negatively impact productivity, according to research by e-days

Its survey asked senior HR professionals in the UK their concerns around employee productivity and found that five issues are most damaging.

The most common issue was poor systems, with two fifths (42%) of HR professionals citing this as a driver of poor productivity. This was followed by office politics (34%), lack of leadership and lack of flexible working (32%), regular absence and sickness (30%) and micromanagement (28%).

The research also looked at the cost of sickness absence on productivity. Using ONS statistics it estimated that every individual sick day taken can cost a business approximately £117.80, calculated from the average UK annual salary (£29,588) divided by the number of actual working days in the year (261, minus weekends and statutory holidays). This equates to a daily cost to a company of £58.90 if an employee’s productivity is running at 50%, or a cost of £29.45 if 75%.

Clare Avery, head of people and culture at e-days, said: “In commissioning this survey, we were particularly interested in the impact of productivity – or lack of productivity – on absence. We wanted to understand the exact issues for employers to help find solutions to unnecessary absence and lower productivity, which can be an expensive, recurring problem."

Speaking to HR magazine, Avery added that issues with stress can accumulate over time, and that employers shouldn't wait until an employee has high absence rates to tackle the problem.

"You see people leading up to an illness through stress, anxiety and depression – it doesn't just happen overnight. They are more likely to have reduced levels of productivity and efficiency even before taking any actual absence. So taking steps to combat these issues within the workplace is a real priority. Absence figures will only tell you part of the story around poor workplace productivity,” she said.

Line managers, together with HR, are critical to providing employees with the support they need, she added.

"The initial response from a line manager should be to understand the employee’s situation. Are the causes of stress or anxiety to be found in the workplace or from a personal situation? If within work, is this to do with workload, the way the job role is designed or workplace relationships? Each individual is different and to truly reduce these issues, the response needs to be as unique," said Avery.

"HR [professionals] should be the ones banging the drum and championing genuinely embedding mental health strategies in the workplace. They should be nurturing line managers’ understanding of the causes of stress and anxiety and equipping them with the tools to combat it with individuals in their teams. With links to productivity, employee wellbeing and happiness, this should be a priority line managers get on board with."