Britain’s ‘Quiet Quitters’ Are Costing the Economy £257 Billion

By | June 14, 2024

The UK economy lost more than £257 billion ($327 billion) in potential output because of demotivated workers last year, adding to a productivity crisis that’s left the country falling behind other wealthy nations.

Just one in 10 UK workers were classified as “engaged” at work, which means putting in discretionary effort on the tasks they’re asked to do, according to Gallup research published Wednesday that tracked a slow erosion in motivation over the last decade.

The finding represents a reversal for the UK, which in the early 2010s had the second highest proportion of engaged workers in the Group of Seven industrial nations. That’s now dropped below the averages in both the G-7 and the rest of Europe. It’s now well below the global figure of 23%.

The Gallup researchers said that level of engagement means the UK has an issue with “quiet quitters,” or people doing the bare minimum at work instead of being “actively engaged.” Engagement is also dragged down by another category of workers who even oppose the efforts of bosses.

The study looked at the link between worker motivation and output at firm-level across sectors and found that including lost output and lost potential could be costing the UK 11% of gross domestic product.

“The dangerous threat to the UK economy right now is a workforce that has essentially given up, and the politics are not making that any easier,” said Jeremie Brecheisen, UK managing partner at Gallup, adding that workers feel abandoned by politicians to deal with the consequences of events like Britain’s exit from the European Union. “There is an impact of failure of the government or mistrust in the system.”

That sentiment is on full-display in the run-up to the general election on July 4. Polls suggest voters are likely to end 14 years of Conservative rule, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s party losing ground to both the Labour opposition and the right-wing Reform UK party.

Gallup’s work also underscores challenges for Labour if it wins office, with hurdles to reviving the economy and lifting livings standards.

The UK is struggling to boost an economy that tipped into a mild recession last year. The Bank of England expects weak growth for much of this year. Economists forecast a small drop in output when April’s figure is published later on Wednesday.

Productivity is a big part of the problem. Output per hour worked has stagnated since the financial crisis, falling behind the US and other rich countries. At the same time, Britain has fewer workers than before COVID after more than 800,000 people dropped out due to long-term sickness, to retire or for education.

Gallup found that a lack of clarity around what needs to be accomplished is one of the main drivers of low engagement. While part of that is due to poor management, in the UK the situation has been exacerbated by a series of shocks from Brexit to the pandemic and macroeconomic uncertainty, Brecheisen said. External factors like politics account for about 30% of the variance in engagement levels overall, he added.

Britain scores well on some measures. About 40% of UK employees are experiencing stress daily, below the European average. But a demotivated workforce makes it harder for the country to draw in and retain skilled workers. And Britons are also more likely to experience other negative emotions like sadness or anger on a daily basis, Gallup found.

“There’s still a lot of things that are very attractive about the UK but the risk in the future is that this starts to erode the employee value brand of the country,” Brecheisen said. “The best and brightest are not going want to come to England if this is a terrible place to work, they’re much more likely to want to go to Canada or America or Germany or somewhere else where they know it’s going to mean better work experience.”

Photograph: The UK economy lost more than £257 billion ($327 billion) in potential output because of demotivated workers last year. Photo credit: Tolga Aken/AFP/Getty Images

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