UK workplaces undermined by too many rules, study finds

Employers can unleash the productivity of their workers by allowing them more scope to use their initiative, create more stimulating work and reduce the burden of unnecessary rules and procedures, according to research.

A study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), surveyed more than 2,000 UK employees, asking what enabled them to be most productive in their jobs.

The most common responses emerge as interesting work (40 per cent), being able to use their own initiative (39 per cent) and being given tasks which complement their skills (25 per cent).

On the other hand, the most common hurdles to employee productivity are unnecessary rules and procedures (28 per cent), not having the resources available to do their jobs (28 per cent) and office politics (24 per cent). 

Claire McCartney, research adviser at the CIPD, says that productivity at work has been a real focus this year for employers and policymakers, but the most important perspective on the productivity debate is that of employees themselves.

‘This survey gives us unique insight into what workers feel affects how well they work, and the answer is much simpler than many would probably assume.

‘Improving productivity is an ongoing, long-term project for the UK, but in the shorter term, employers can help employees use their skills and ideas by focusing on developing leaders and line managers who empower rather than control staff and by designing jobs which provide sufficient autonomy.’

Setting employees free to innovate and play to their strengths also involves an employment relationship based on trust and removing unnecessary and restrictive rules and procedures that get in the way of common sense and agility, McCartney continues. 

Engagement is also a key factor affecting productivity at work, and the proportion of engaged employees has dropped from 39 per cent to 36 per cent this year, with men more likely to be disengaged at work than women.  

Among those that are disengaged at work, 44 per cent feel they are over-qualified, indeed the survey also finds that overall, nearly three in ten employees (29 per cent) think they are overqualified for their role.

Engagement also has an impact on productivity, as significantly more disengaged employees (17 per cent) say they are less productive than neutral (5 per cent) or engaged (3 per cent) employees.

However, employees point to the solution to over-qualification themselves, with three fifths (61 per cent) suggesting that broadening their job role would make better use of their skills and experience.

McCartney says, ‘There’s undoubtedly a mismatch of skills existing in the UK workforce, and we can see here how damaging over-qualification and skills mismatches can be to areas such as employee engagement, long-term retention and, of course, productivity.’

The CIPD is already speaking out on this issue and has called on the government to work with employers and other key stakeholders to develop a strategy to create more high-skilled jobs and improve skills utilisation in the workplace.

Further reading on staff motivation

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.