Eight million employees have low productivity as a result of the cost of living crisis, study finds

Organisations need to move away from ‘cult of efficiency’, say experts, as a third of workers have not been offered any support by their employer

Credit: Witthaya Prasongsin/Moment RF/Getty Images

Just under a third (29 per cent) of the UK workforce – which equates to an estimated 8.2 million people – say cost of living-related financial worries have negatively impacted their productivity at work, a study has revealed. 

The research from Censuswide, commissioned by Unum UK, found that a third (31 per cent) of employees expected the same concerns to also affect their productivity in 2023. 

The survey of 3,005 workers revealed that more than a third (35 per cent), or almost 10 million workers, have not been provided with any cost of living support from their employer this year. 

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The data found that the top three issues affecting productivity this year are financial worries (29 per cent), work-life balance (23 per cent) and mental health issues (22 per cent). 

Workforce consultant Barry Flack said organisations needed to rethink what productivity means and enact change. “Productivity needs to be changed from a focus on outputs, such as value-creating work, and not inputs like time spent in the office or long working hours,” said Flack, who added that productivity has become a “cult of efficiency over the last few decades as we pursue unsustainable levels of growth”. He advised that this needed a more “humane approach to people”.

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Financial worries are also impacting both physical and mental health, as two-fifths (40 per cent) said they had low energy, a third (32 per cent) were unable to sleep and a quarter (25 per cent) were so worried about their finances they were feeling depressed.

Sarah Loates, director and founder of Loates HR Consultancy, said employers can get creative with their benefits to counter money worries, such as by offering fuel cards and discount schemes, alongside ensuring healthcare plans are robust. But businesses should avoid being like Elon Musk, she said. “Productivity has long been the holy grail of UK plc. Employers should be the antithesis of Elon Musk, be empathetic and get creative,” said Loates, adding that “it's not just about increasing base pay”.  

Of the employees who said they were affected by financial pressures, a fifth (20 per cent) expected to need to speak to a mental health professional for counselling, and 15 per cent expected to take time off work. 

Vicky Hossack, lead consultant at Atkinson HR Consulting, said communication and understanding was key for employers to help their workforce mitigate rising levels of anxiety and depression. “Understanding how the current cost of living crisis is affecting your team is fundamental in helping to identify solutions that can support them to mitigate these financial concerns,” said Hossack, adding that “keeping two-way communication and feedback channels open with your employees is critical”.