One in three (32%) people in the UK are coasting in their career and the biggest cause appears to be unhappiness in their current workplace, according to a report entitled Why BWell from Barnett Waddingham. The alarming statistic – which equates to more than ten million of the workforce – comes as the UK battles to solve a productivity crisis which since the financial crisis has seen our output slow more than any other leading western economy.
The Why BWell report, created through interviews with 3,000 UK workers, was undertaken to gain fresh insight into health and wellbeing in the workplace. When respondents were asked how they were coping at work, just over half (55%) were positive about their performance, however a third (32%) admitted to coasting, while 7% said they were struggling.
The most compelling reason why people coast is unhappiness at work, rather than any lack of ambition. There are two types of coasters – those who make the conscious choice to do so and those where it comes down to something not working with the employer or job role. While three in five (62%) coasters were content in their lives generally, only around a third (36%) were happy at work – suggesting that many could be mobilised to becoming better performing workers if employers could figure out how to make them happier at work and more productive.
One key cause of this unhappiness is employees lacking a sense of purpose – less than half (47%) of those who coast say their job is meaningful to them and that they add value, yet among those excelling in their occupations, nine in ten (89%) feel this way. Meanwhile, only two in five coasters (39%) believe their employer makes best use of their skills, compared to 83% of those excelling.
Another contributing factor is the perceived effort that employers make with employees – coasters are almost three times less likely (33 vs 80%) as those who excel to feel recognised for the contribution they make, while almost a third (29%) say no interest is shown in them as a person, compared to just 3% of those flourishing at work.
The incentive for employers to address this issue is clear – coasters are a far bigger flight risk. Two in five (41%) coasters did not think they would remain in their current job for another 12 months, compared to just one in ten (9%) of those flourishing. According to Oxford Economics, the average cost to replace an employee is around £30,000, so high turnover can have a big financial impact. Happiness may also directly influence productivity, with one study finding that happy employees are as much as 20% more productive than unhappy employees.
Laura Matthews, workplace wellbeing consultant at Barnett Waddingham, said: “Mental health is beginning to get some of the attention it deserves in workplaces and thankfully, more employers are now looking out for the signs of issues such as stress and anxiety. This is great progress, but as part of the same conversation, employers should be thinking more broadly about employee happiness and the positive impact this can have on all areas of the business, from productivity and innovation to profitability and corporate reputation.
“A third of our workforce is coasting at the moment, applying just enough effort to get by and go home at the end of the day. Our research shows that these are not lazy or unambitious people, but often those lacking purpose or confidence in their ability to add value. Mobilising this group to start excelling at work is worth a huge amount to UK companies.”