London, 11 July 2012 — Britain’s workforce faces a heightened global competitive risk as businesses and employees have reached a standstill, with creativity and career advancement taking a back seat, according to new research from Towers Watson, a leading global professional services company. Towers Watson’s Global Workforce Study (GWS), which included a survey of 2,628 UK workers, found that one in four (26%) UK workers feel ‘stuck’ in their role as their peers put off retirement and the vast majority (77%) said that their ability to advance their career has either got worse or stayed the same compared to a year ago. Furthermore, two in five (40%) said they would have to leave their organisation in order to advance to a job at a higher level.

Adding to concerns that Britain’s businesses and their workforce have hit a ‘productivity wall’, the survey also found that only about a third (32%) of workers think their organisation does a good job of promoting the most qualified employees, just 33% said their organisation does a good job of providing opportunities for career advancement, and worryingly, only 55% said they have the tools and resources they need to achieve exceptional performance. Many workers (66%) also cannot see a clear link between performance and pay, suggesting that workers have little incentive to push themselves in their role.

Yves Duhaldeborde, Head of Organisational Surveys & Insights at Towers Watson, explains: “The research paints a worrying picture of ‘Standstill Britain’. It suggests that both workers and UK PLC are stuck in a rut, without the tools, inclination or support they need to progress. The post-recession reality is that many people have swapped ambition for stability and are choosing a steady income from their current role over aiming for promotion or looking for a new job entirely.

“We need employers to really inject innovation, creativity and confidence back into their business to ensure that employees feel assured of their career options and can break through the current ambition ceiling we’re seeing.”

The GWS was administered globally to employees across 29 different countries, including those in the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. The survey examines how the work environment is changing in response to shifts in business operations, communications and technology and related global trends. The purpose of the survey is to better understand how employees in general feel about their work experience, and what they need and care about to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. The study focuses on what contributes to sustained engagement in the workplace, made up of three distinct elements. One is traditional engagement, defined as employees’ willingness to give effort to their employer. The second is enablement, defined as having the tools, resources, and support to get work done efficiently.The third is energy, defined as a work environment that actively supports physical, emotional and interpersonal well-being.

For workers considering their career path, Towers Watson has published the following recommendations:

  • Think laterally about where your skills can be applied — whether that might mean moving to a different department, different organisation or different sector altogether.
  • Carve a career path — think about where you want to be in five years, ten years and beyond and the skills that can get you there.
  • Be honest — talk to your supervisor about your career goals and how your organisation can help you to reach them.
  • Never stop learning — In the recession, training fell off the agenda for many organisations. Make sure you know what you are entitled to and become a driving force in makimg sure you receive regular training.
  • Speak to industry experts and recruiters — find out where your current experience might take you.

Towers Watson also offers the following advice for employers looking to inject creativity and confidence back into their business:

  • Create an atmosphere of innovation — Encourage employees to actively participate in the future direction of the business and put forward solutions to problem areas.
  • Provide positive leadership and direction — The recession has seen a chasm open up between senior leadership and employees which has left many workers nervous about the future. Bridge the gap by regularly communicating change to the business and ensuring that your organisation has a clear and active voice at the top.
  • Be brave — find opportunities for your staff to do work that might be out of their comfort zone. This could give them the opportunity to move sideways in the organisation if a promotion opportunity is unavailable. It will also improve their wider skill set which will ultimately benefit the business.
  • Invest in your people — Make sure that your senior staff and middle management have the time, training and tools needed to inspire their teams and make it clear what is expected of them. Motivation can be a powerful tool for improving performance – take time to make it an everyday part of your company culture.
  • Control the controllable — Issues such as the Eurozone crisis will have an inevitable impact on employer confidence but they shouldn’t have an impact on how you talk to your people and the processes that keep your business running. Make sure that you have the right tools and processes in place — from software to training – to make sure that your employees are confident about their role, know what is expected of them and can do the best possible job.

About the Study

The Towers Watson Global Workforce Study covers more than 32,000 employees selected from research panels that represent the populations of full-time employees working in large and midsize organizations across a range of industries in 29 markets around the world. It was fielded online between February and March 2012. The UK sample includes over 2,600 employees. The study is designed to help companies better understand their diverse employee segments and the factors that influence employee performance on the job by gauging changing attitudes that affect attraction, retention, engagement and productivity.