• Managing people

What About the Workers?

New study shows welcome positivity in the European workforce even in the UK as it prepares for Brexit


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Whatever post-Brexit Europe brings, worker productivity will be key to its economic future – particularly in the UK where productivity levels have been sluggish for the ten years since the financial downturn.

Better productivity depends on an optimistic, forward‑thinking, workforce that is open to learning and innovation, enhanced by digital transformation, and supported by strong leadership and modern working practices.

Encouraging recent research, carried out by independent market research agency Opinion Matters on behalf of global HR solutions company ADP, suggests some of these prerequisites are increasingly being met across Europe including, with Brexit in mind, in the UK.

Good news for the UK, this research reveals growing optimism, stability and skills confidence in the workforce, all of which have continuously strengthened in the ten years since the financial crash. Just 12% of respondents reported feeling very optimistic about their future in the workplace in 2012, a figure that jumped to 27% in 2019. At the same time, skills confidence has increased in the last seven years with 87% saying they are confident they hold the necessary skills to succeed in their role, up from 55% in 2012.

On the downside, the research revealed staff shortages, and a lack on investment in technology as barriers to productivity, and for the second year running, bad management was cited as the top drain on productivity – a finding which highlights the importance of better management training and executive education.


Read ADP’s The Workforce View in Europe 2019 report here


ADP’s fourth annual Workforce View in Europe report, which assessed the attitudes of over 10,000 workers from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and the UK, revealed several positive trends in the world of work including:

  • Gender pay gap reporting: 75% of millennials would consider quitting their job if their employer was paying men and women unequally.
  • Freelancing is losing its shine: the number of employees actively considering becoming self-employed slumped a full 11 percentage points since 2016.
  • Skills confidence is bouncing back among older workers, but younger employees doubt they have what it takes to succeed in the modern workplace.

The survey of circa 1,500 UK employees shows a strong UK workforce although concerns around the future of work and workplace inequality persist.

Concerns around the future of work

However, the study also shows there are still fears around how jobs will change in the future. In 2013, around a fifth of workers (22%) said they believed that they would have to retrain to keep up with changes in their role in the next five years, and in 2019 over a quarter (27%) believed their job will be automated or replaced by a robot in the next five years. While the workforce is more positive and confident than in past years, there are continued concerns around preparing for the transformations of the future.

Conflict and inequality in the workplace

In recent years there has been a growing awareness around gender inequality in the workplace, particularly around shared parental leave and the new gender pay gap reporting. However, some advances have fallen short of expectations.

In 2012, 37% said they would take advantage of shared parental leave now or in the next ten years, yet 2018 figures showed that shared parental leave is sometimes as low as 2%. Mothers are still likelier to carry the brunt of the childcaring responsibility, more often opting to take leave from work, cut their hours and, ultimately, put their career on hold. In 2018, 14% felt there was a need for gender pay gap reporting – a figure that jumped to 23% in 2019.

Other key changes include the rise of intergenerational conflict in the office. In 2012, more than half of the working nation (54%) were aware of intergenerational issues in their workplace, rising to 66% by 2015.

The rise of flexible working

In 2012, employees said that, aside from pay, the top workplace motivator was praise and recognition from management, yet from 2014 onwards the most popular option was generally centred around flexible working and work-life balance. This confirms the prediction in 2012 when 32% of respondents said the ability to work when and where they want would be the top motivator for the next ten years.

Melanie Robinson, Senior HR Director at ADP, commented: “It’s encouraging to see how confident and positive the workforce is. Businesses have been through enormous change but have handled this well, alongside managing the challenges raised by digital transformation and significant change in the political sphere.” But she adds “Our research has found that there is still significant work to do in reducing workplace inequality and, while it is no easy feat, businesses and society must do more to address this and change entrenched stereotypes… To stay ahead of the curve and attract top talent, businesses must ensure they’re doing everything to offer the benefits and opportunities that will help them get the best out of their employees.”

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