Over the last three years we’ve been investigating what makes the British workforce tick. With nine surveys gathering data on topics from mental health support to inspirational office artwork, we’ve developed a strong understanding of what your employees need to perform at their best.
Our research has involved almost 14,000 people, so it offers important insights for employers wanting to improve staff motivation. We’ve pulled together all the most significant insights from these surveys, to reflect important areas that need to be improved across UK industries. After consultation with HR and business experts with formulated information on how realistic the demands in these areas are, and what businesses can do to meet them.
The Shape of Our Working Day
The most common trends when it comes to what workers want from their working week are remote working, flexible hours and longer weekends.
Over half of employees (51%) want to work longer hours over four days, in return for a three-day weekend. Working from home was also a big demand, with 60% of workers saying that would like to spend some portion of their hours each week working remotely.
If allowing employees further control over when and where they work is possible in your business, it can offer substantial benefits. David Chaudron PhD, Managing Partner at Organized Change, highlights how the reduced commutes and four-day week will “allow greater time for personal and family pursuits”. Dr Sa’ad Ali, Lecturer in Human Resource Management at the University of Worcester speaks of the benefits of allowing flexible working, where employees can choose if they want to work four or five days. He says that “several new studies show that offering employees flexible working hours and providing them with the opportunity to have an input in the working schedule increases motivation.”
Introducing substantial change will not always be plain sailing, however, and initiating a four-day week might raise just as many problems as it solves. David Chaudron points out that, although people may be tempted to do so by the lure of longer weekends, working ten-hour days can cause issues. “There is a reason for an eight-hour day, as studies have shown increased fatigue and mistakes after working longer. These issues should be assessed to see how a longer workday might increase these problems.”
The key to allowing staff to be happy with their working week appears to be flexibility. Dr Sa’ad Ali highlights “work-life balance might be impacted negatively by increased amount of hours Monday to Thursday for some individuals, but others might substantially benefit from this.” To really motivate employees and allow them the best work-life balance, businesses should be moving towards a flexible working model.
Workplace Physical Health
Some of our habits at work can have serious effects on our physical health. With over half of people spending at least five hours a day sat in front of a computer screen at work, strain on our eyes and backs is a serious concern. 8 in 10 workers are worried about the long-term effects this will have on their health.
There are things employers can encourage to limit potential health problems. Stuart Hearn, CEO at Clear Review, cites “a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which found that employees should get up once every half an hour for a break to stretch their legs.”
Peter Holmes, HR Expert at Wirehouse Employer Services, gives suggestions of what managers can do to improve physical health in the workplace:
“Employers should provide information to their employees on the provisions of eye tests if they are classed as a display screen equipment user. Display screen users are entitled to a free eye test and the employer has to pay for corrective lenses and a frame.
“An idea which has grown over recent years is having meetings stood up rather than sat down. Not only does research demonstrate that this is a more efficient method of conducting meetings, but it also assists in the health of employees. Employers can assist in buying tables and equipment to be at an appropriate height for standing.”
To invest in the long-term health and productivity of their workforce, managers should be monitoring working conditions and educating staff about how best to position themselves at work to lessen stress and strain on their bodies.
Workplace Mental Health
Recent years have seen a big push in creating awareness of mental health issues but work still needs to be done.
Two-thirds of managers (65%) have still not had any valuable training about how to handle mental health in the workplace. Peter Holmes says that this needs to change. He suggests that “employers can assist in this area by providing that their first aiders be given training in spotting and dealing with mental health issues as much as dealing with physical injuries”.
Experts agree that there’s a lot more employers could be doing in order to improve workers’ mental health. Stuart Hearn says:
“The best way forward is for managers to hold regular check-ups with their employees, at which time their performance in general is discussed. Employees and managers can discuss any barriers to great performance, along with any successes and accomplishments. On top of this, managers should encourage their employees to open up about stress and work-related anxiety, creating a culture of transparency and open discussion. Managers should provide any help, tools and services necessary to help employees with their mental health, which will ultimately improve performance and productivity for the entire company.”
Peter Holmes believes in a similar approach to the issue, and offers specific solutions:
“One way which employers can act in a direct practical manner is by providing financial advice assistance to their employees. Whether employees earn £15,000 or £150,000 per year, the Financial Advice Working Group of HM Treasury and the FCA found that there was a clear link between financial wellbeing and productivity. Providing access to a financial advisor, to assist with debts, pensions, etc could also help reduce employee stress, be an unusual but highly useful employee benefit and assist in staff retention whilst significantly assisting employees.”
Procrastination at Work
With the rise of smartphones and other portable devices, social media and internet usage has permeated almost every element of our lives. It is a fine line to balance this in the workplace. Unfettered access to social media can cause high levels of procrastination, but strict bans will make employees feel untrusted and unmotivated. Social media policies can set out and enforce what is acceptable in this area, but 51% of workers are unsure if their workplace even has one.
The importance of social media policies is highlighted by Peter Holmes:
“It is important to have a policy in place so that employees are aware of the rules surrounding social media, both in terms of time spent on it and the content posted. A clear, unambiguous policy explaining both the rules and reasons behind the rule is important not only for staff to comply with the policy but understand and ‘buy’ into the reasoning behind it.
“Have a sensible policy on the amount of usage. Justify the policy and have a bespoke policy which meets the needs for that specific business rather than a bland and generic policy.
“If an employer monitored the performance and productivity of their staff, it would highlight any concerns. If performance or productivity was an issue, then monitoring or policing their use of social media in order to improve performance.”
Setting out clear, common sense social media policies is key to keeping staff focused and motivated.
The Right Office Environment
Creating the best environment for your employees is important in keeping your workforce happy and productive. Trying to limit irritating habits and providing a lively and inspiring space are a cornerstone in this process. Keep your office tidy, with use of storage boxes, and include decoration that your staff enjoy.
Over half of people (53%) want to see art in their workplace as it makes them happier and more motivated. For these benefits to be seen throughout the workforce, serious thought needs to given to what will be displayed and where.
As Peter Holmes points out “If the artwork is simply generic, with perhaps motivational words added to it, then it can often do more harm than good. If thought has been given to the art, be it a sculpture, painting or graphic then this can improve the wellbeing of staff, especially if placed in the right location, and assisting with putting employees in the right frame of mind for work.”
With the right planning behind it, consulting with staff about what they want, and making sure it reflects the principles of your business, art work can be a fantastic tool for improving staff happiness and reducing stress.
To uncover the insights discussed above we reviewed data from previous Viking research projects. We returned to the raw survey data to note important trends amongst the responses. These were then compiled to highlight significant shortfalls and employee demands. The project the data was taken from are:
- Why Art Works
- The Ideal Working Week
- Mental Health in the Workplace
- Stress in the Workplace
- Social Media Usage in the Workplace
- Office Lunch Breaks
- Sitting at Work
- Office Habits
- Workplace Procrastination
Peter Holmes is HR Expert at Wirehouse Employer Services, a UK-based company established in 2010, specialising in HR, health and safety and employment law.
Stuart Hearn is CEO and founder of Clear Review, a performance management software solution that helps companies around the world boost company-wide performance.
Dr Sa’ad Ali is a lecturer in Human Resources Management at the University of Worcester with research interests in the fields of cross-cultural management and human resourcing.
David Chaudron PhD is Managing Partner at Organized Change, a HR consultancy firm with more than 30 years-experience in the field.