Katharine Moxham, spokesperson at Group Risk Development (GRiD), looks at the problem of productivity and asks how it can be solved


Output per hour for the UK is 20 percentage points below the average for the rest of the major G7 advanced economies, according to the Office for National Statistics. This is the widest productivity gap since comparable estimates began, and reinforces the need for employers to act now.

GRiD’s latest research has found that 23% of employers questioned believe productivity is an issue for their business, and that employers are trying to identify and tackle the factors weighing down their growth.

GRiD’s research also found that 62% of employers were in favour of the introduction of a new mandatory National Living Wage of £7.20 an hour from April 2016, with one in five (21%) saying they disagreed.

There will certainly be concerns that an increase in wages will be a drain on profitability. To offset that, businesses need to look at how they can increase productivity – and this starts with the people. Decreasing absenteeism and improving staff morale are key drivers – whether through flexible working, focusing on fitness, financial education or other means. A contented and focused workforce will drive the business forward.

When asked what they were doing to improve productivity, flexible working initiatives – including working from home and compressed hours – ranked the highest, with 29% of employers doing this.

This makes eminent sense given that home, family and caring issues consistently feature as main causes of absence, and achieving a good work/life balance for staff consistently features as a top health and wellbeing priority for employers in GRiD’s annual research.

Improving productivity is a key challenge that the government has pledged to tackle in this parliament: boosting the health of the UK workforce is fundamental to achieving this. Employers recognise this: 22% encourage their staff to be more active and 18% encourage staff to improve their health.

Taking the time to invest in the health and wellbeing of a workforce, rather than approaching it as a tickbox exercise, will have far greater long-term impact on the growth and sustainability of a business.

However, just 6% have invested in fitness technology, which can encourage better health behaviours and provide insights when monitoring general fitness levels.

The productivity puzzle is not an intangible issue: businesses’ growth potential is being hindered. It’s clear from these results that employers are recognising the importance of acting to improve their output.

Over recent years, providers of group risk insurance (life, critical illness and income protection) have also worked hard to deliver value beyond the payment of claims and to offer support services.

Today’s group risk proposition focuses as much on mitigating risk and offering support as on paying claims. As well as paying £3.45m a day in claims in 2014, group risk providers helped more than 1,500 employees back to work through active interventions, thus avoiding a long-term absence.

Crucially, group risk products also offer support – such as Employee Assistance Programmes, HR and legal advice, online health assessments, mental health first aid training and fast-track access to counselling and physiotherapy – that can be extremely effective in keeping people in the workplace, helping them to make life changes and supporting them back to full productivity.

These services can be used every day – even if a claim is never made – and release money to spend elsewhere.

Ultimately, a business grows on the people behind the ideas, products/services and their delivery, so ensuring that the benefits package supports staff retention, morale and productivity is key.