Covid-19 disruption hits first quarter UK productivity levels
Official statistics from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that productivity levels in the UK dropped in the first quarter of 2020. This news was far from unexpected given the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact it’s had on the economy, causing many businesses to close down and many employees to work from home.
Overall, productivity fell by 0.6% and productivity per worker was down 3.1%. These statistics all cover the period from the beginning of January through to the end of March. And the fall in percentages are calculated by comparing statistics from the same period last year in 2019.
The impact of the Job Retention Scheme
One of the things that these early 2020 statistics show us is the impact of the job retention scheme on the UK workforce. It means that we can already see the impact of the pandemic and the job retention scheme the UK government instigated to mitigate the outbreak’s impact on the economy.
The job retention scheme saw large swathes of the UK workforces effectively furloughed, meaning they remain employed but not active. During this time, the government covered and in many cases still continues to cover 80% of their total wages.
Further productivity slump expected in the second quarter
One thing to note about these productivity numbers is that they’re likely only the beginning of what we’re going to see in the year ahead. The second quarter productivity and output figures are expected to be far worse because this was the period in which the nation was in lockdown.
Many are still hoping for a V-shaped economic recovery, meaning things return to normal in the economic sense sooner rather than later. But that’s not guaranteed, especially in the event of a second wave and further lockdown measures being implemented.
The new reality of home working could be here to stay
It’s not entirely clear whether working from home has a positive or negative impact on people’s productivity levels, or even whether it has much of any kind of impact at all. There are some things people can do to remain productive while working at home though.
The right furniture such as cheap but good quality office chairs, a quiet space that’s dedicated to work and a healthy work-life balance all contribute to better levels of individual productivity. That’s something that many employers will have to encourage and facilitate in the months ahead.
The lingering problem of UK productivity
One factor that can’t be ignored is that the UK has for a long time now been trailing its European neighbours when it comes to productivity levels. It’s a lingering problem and one that successive governments have found it hard to overcome or even find an explanation for.
It’s believed by many that the main reason for such worker productivity figures lies with the fact that there’s been severe underinvestment in skills and IT by many leading business owners and company executives. Changing that might be the first step to addressing this wider problem.