Most British workers are spending longer at their workplace for little or no gain in productivity, according to a landmark study being released this week.
More than two-thirds of employees say they are working longer hours than two years ago, but only 10% believe they are more productive.
The study of attitudes to work by the Smith Institute, a UK thinktank, also found that more than a quarter of staff believed their productivity had declined over the period.
Coming only a fortnight after the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) downgraded its forecast for productivity, the study will fuel concerns that British businesses are relying on cheap labour to work more hours in an effort to increase output.
The study found that nine in 10 workers said they believed productivity was important and almost 80% said their employer measured it, at least sometimes.
But they said managers usually sought productivity gains through jobs cuts or simply doing the same tasks at a faster pace. Only a minority of employees associated higher productivity with better pay and conditions.
The report said: “There is a clear message that employees feel that they should receive a fair share from delivering higher productivity in pay terms, but they feel pessimistic that this will be the case.”
Productivity is based on a measure of the hours worked to produce a specific output. It fell in the last quarter of 2015, bringing to an end nine months of improvements, the OBR said. Without sustained improvements in the UK’s output per hour worked, it said, a recovery was further away.
The government has vowed to improve productivity, but its latest plan was criticised as “a vague collection of existing policies” by a committee of MPs.
The OBR, which is the Treasury’s independent economic forecaster, said before the budget that wage growth would be lower over the next five years than the 2.2% previously predicted, at an average 2%.
Listening to workers would be the fastest route to higher productivity, respondents told the Smith Institute, though managers mostly ignored advice from colleagues and the shop floor.
One civil servant surveyed said: “It would be better to concentrate on improving quality, not quantity … [to get work] right first time rather than continually having to repeat or rectify botched or inadequate work which meets a so-called target.”
An NHS radiographer warned that productivity can be hard to judge. “Having a difficult conversation with a patient is extremely important to the patient but could be deemed non-productive as it does not physically produce an outcome.”
More than 7,400 workers across the private and public sectors responded to the survey, which was conducted for Unions21, a mainly union-funded thinktank that aims to “provide an ‘open space’ for discussion on the future of the trade union movement and the world of work”.
Shop workers made up the largest proportion of respondents, but many came from the energy sector, media and communications and central government.
The study, which will be presented to the Unions21 conference next week, found that 82% of workers see technology as “necessary and inevitable” even though a third believe it will probably make their current role redundant.
Official figures show that productivity has barely increased since 2006 and that the UK has the lowest rate of growth in the G7. Some academics believe the current measure of productivity is outdated and misses huge advances in the technology sector.
Others argue that the UK’s reduced reliance on the highly productive financial sector, which generates a high income from relatively few inputs, and shift to service industries that rely on large numbers of low paid workers, has reduced average productivity.
This article was written by Phillip Inman Economics correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 27th March 2016 15.20 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010