Technology and people: the way to help close the UK’s productivity gap

As chancellor Philip Hammond emphasised in last month’s Autumn Statement, the UK’s productivity is significantly lower than other key economies, lagging Germany and the United States by 30 per cent, even behind France and Italy by 20 per cent and 8 per cent respectively.

Bridging the gap is currently the subject of much focus and debate, but concentrating on maximising the opportunity of two critical elements – technology and the workforce – could reap rewards.

Technology is manifestly changing the way we live our lives. The average person now spends five hours a day on their smartphone. This is a major insight and a fundamental change to the way we lived our lives before the 2008 crisis. So can we harness this insight in the quest to make the UK more productive?

As almost every worker in the UK now carries a smartphone with them and uses this as the “remote control for their life”, then could  offering employees the chance to access their work-related benefits, communications and engagement services via smartphones enable them to become happier and more engaged?

Effective communication of great benefit programmes gives you a great pathway to employee happiness

However, while employee engagement is universally acknowledged as a good thing, it is notoriously difficult to define. One aspect of an engaged workforce is how happy they are. Employee happiness is critical to improving business performance; it is a proven productivity driver. Research from the University of Warwick in 2014 found that happy employees are up to 12 per cent more productive.

And it would make sense that a happy workforce is an engaged one. So how then do we make employees happier and therefore more engaged? Delivering all the benefits, communications and engagement services that businesses provide to their employees to make them more engaged, in a simple and easy-to-understand approach, is critical.

Employee-focused programmes that offer access to savings on shopping, tax-saving schemes such as childcare and bike to work, reward-and-recognition schemes allowing peer-to-peer acknowledgment of jobs well done, and real-time communications are now available to all employers, big and small. Effective communication of great benefit programmes gives you a great pathway to employee happiness.

This is where harnessing the power of technology can make a huge difference. We are all consumers, all have smartphones and spend most of our five hours a day on our smartphone using apps. They have become an integral part of the way we live our lives. So providing employee engagement via an employee’s own smartphone offers a real chance to speak to, engage with and delight employees.

By creating easy-to-access, simple-to-use employee services, accessed via a smartphone, businesses in the UK can boost employee engagement and worker happiness using the infrastructure already in the hands of each and every employee. By aggregating the essentials that make employees happiest, businesses can increase overall staff engagement by improving awareness and usage of the benefits on offer.

It follows then that if the results of employee happiness are so tangible, why aren’t more businesses making this a priority, the number-one item on the boardroom agenda? There are a couple of potential areas that require focus.

Firstly, perceived complexity and cost. There is a misconception that creating, implementing and running an app-based engagement programme is complex, time consuming and expensive. This is certainly no longer true. Many companies now offer rapid app development as the “appification” of the world continues at a pace.

Secondly, infrastructure. Because each employee is already carrying around the equivalent of a supercomputer in their pockets, you don’t need to invest in expensive hardware to be able to make app-based engagement programmes a reality.

With tangible improvements to productivity being possible through such approaches, the outlook for engagement programmes for companies of all sizes in the UK is exceptionally positive. View this approach as an investment, rather than a cost. The return on investment could be game-changing.

Technology is bringing down the barriers to effective employee engagement. If we get this right as a nation, then there is every chance that UK plc will become happier, more engaged and ultimately more productive.

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