Interruptions and a lack of engagement cost UK firms £15 bn each year

engagementUK businesses are suffering massive losses in company performance due to ‘disengaged’ employees who complain of working conditions that result in constant distraction and disruption and a lack of privacy, according to a new report published by office furniture maker Steelcase. Research by the Centre for Mental Health claims that presenteeism (at work physically but unproductive mentally) costs UK businesses £15bn per year and that includes the cost of disengaged employees. A new IPSOS survey commissioned by Steelcase, claims to highlights this and related issues. The survey of 10,500 employees working in open plan offices across 14 different countries and found that only 11 percent of workers are engaged and inspired at work, 63 percent lack engagement and are unmotivated and 37 percent describe their workplace as ‘stressful’. Unwanted distractions and lack of privacy were major complaints, with the average worker interrupted every  three minutes and taking up to 23 minutes to return to the task at hand. In the UK only 57 percent of those surveyed said they could concentrate easily and only 50 percent are able to work without interruption.

The report estimates that around half (49 percent) of all offices in the UK are open plan, the highest figure of the countries surveyed, and although most workers felt that open plan spaces were  fit for their lifestyle and an appropriate space for them to work, many still reported being stressed and distracted.

Bostjan Ljubic, vice president of Steelcase UK and Ireland said: “This research shows that although there are positives to working in an open plan office, including the ease of communicating with colleagues and collaboration, it also shows that workers need privacy to fulfil more demanding tasks. By catering for different work styles in the office, and providing employees with a choice of space, UK businesses can ensure that workers are supported, reducing the impact of distraction on workers’ wellbeing and productivity.”

Following the research, Steelcase have collaborated with Dr Susan Cain, author of bestselling book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ on spaces that address the need for more focus and privacy at work. Her tips for reducing the stress of our over-stimulating and  high-tech offices include:

  • giving permission to be alone;
  • control over their environment such as adjusting lighting, noise and temperatures;
  • offering sensory balance including materials and sounds that reflect nature;
  • being psychologically safe by getting away from people watching them or being interrupted.

Ljubic says: “There needs to be a balance between the isolated, cage-like office cubicles of the past and today’s noisy, public and distracting spaces. The solution is to offer a balance, spaces to relax or focus as well as spaces to collaborate and be social, when workers are given the power to make decisions over their working environments the workspace will be a much more productive and stress-free environment.”