Taking sides

Let’s be clear: Senior Practitioner status isn’t for everyone. It’s unlikely you’d have reached this point on the journey unless you share, consciously or unconsciously, certain values and aspirations. It’s also very likely that your organisation (or at least part of it!) recognises the need for long-term transformative change, not just quick fixes, even if that means challenging well-embedded attitudes and practices. After all, we keep emphasising the systemic nature of workplace innovation – the need to build a system of mutually reinforcing practices at every level of the organisation.

You’ll also have realised that workplace innovation is built on an essentially optimistic view of people, one which sees work – or rather good work – as an opportunity to help everyone reach their full potential in terms of skills, creativity and the ability to relate to others. Workplace innovation leads to win-win-win outcomes: employees with healthier and more fulfilling working lives, organisations with more agile and innovative workforces, and a wider society with greater economic and social integration.

So you can see why people become so passionate about workplace innovation – and welcome to the movement!

In the Introduction to Workplace Innovation in the Practitioner Programme, we explore research evidence showing that companies adopting workplace innovation practices systematically gain significant performance advantages across a range of indicators (including productivity, cost reduction, customer satisfaction, personnel turnover and sickness absence) compared with those organised on more traditional lines.

The 2019 European Company Survey offers fresh evidence:

Figure 1: Workplace wellbeing and organisational performance by establishment type – measured by the extent of job complexity and autonomy

The green circle, representing the 6% of companies in which the great majority of employees enjoy varied and self-managing jobs, are clearly ahead of the pack in terms of business performance and, especially, employee wellbeing and engagement. Those in which a smaller number of employees are in jobs offering variety and autonomy (57% of European workplaces, represented by the blue circle) still enjoy some advantages, but the real losers are the traditional, command and control workplaces (the purple circle – 37% of European workplaces).

Of course job complexity and autonomy are only part of the picture – and comparable results can be found for other workplace practices such as employee-driven innovation and improvement, and employee voice. You can download the full report of the 2019 European Company Survey here.

The problem is that not everyone sees things in the same way. Take a look at the results from the 2019 European Company Survey conducted by Eurofound (an EU agency). It shows that only 6% of workplaces in Europe create the conditions in which the great majority of employees work autonomously and in jobs that involve sufficient variety and opportunities for problem solving – in other words they self-manage the planning, sequencing, control and pace of their own work to a substantial degree. The prevalence of such workplaces is highest in Sweden and Finland (18% & 16% respectively) with the UK at 10%, Ireland at around 4%, and much of Southern and Eastern Europe at 1 – 2%.

So no-one has room for complacency: the vast majority of European workers are underutilised and in jobs which can be detrimental to health and wellbeing, whilst their employers ignore the potential performance gains associated with workplace innovation.

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