Demotivation nation: UK epidemic

01 February 2019

This article was featured in the February 2019 issue of the magazine.

Melanie Robinson, senior director HRBP Sales for ADP, discusses research findings and offers advice


Why do we pull ‘sickies’? In work places across the country, people call in to work feigning illness and take an unwarranted and unscheduled day off. This has a significant impact on the UK economy - a study ( in 2017 found that the cost of employees bunking off is a staggering £900 million.

But despite absence having a big impact on UK businesses, the new People Unboxed study ( from ADP (Automatic Data Processing) shows that over a quarter of UK employees believe it is acceptable to call in sick when they aren’t (27%), significantly higher than the European average of 21%.

This points to a larger motivation issue in the UK workforce. Why do so many employees feel it is acceptable to take a day off? And, more importantly, why do they want to?

The study shows that over three quarters (80%) of UK employees have not wanted to go into work at least once over the last twelve months, again significantly higher than the European average of 74%. Almost one fifth consider quitting at least once a week (18%). This is unsurprising when you consider 40% of UK respondents said they don’t look forward to going to work at their current job.

...wakeup call for UK businesses to evaluate their relationship with their employees...


This lack of motivation is concerning, especially when compared to other nations in Europe. 28% of UK respondents said they did not want to go into work several times a month or more, compared with just 15% in the Netherlands and 20% in Italy.

The UK is about to enter a turbulent period as it exits the European Union in March 2019, with or without a deal. Add to this the ever-changing technological environment, business need an engaged and stable workforce more than ever.

So, how can bosses go about reversing this trend? 

  • Make work life balance a priority – Engaged employees report a good level of work life balance, but this is severely lacking in UK workplaces. Our study shows that although almost three quarters (73%) of UK workers like to keep their work and home lives separate, almost a third (30%) don’t feel that they have a good work-life balance in their current role. 

Technology has enabled an ‘always on’ working capability but that doesn’t mean employers should take advantage. By leading by example and giving clear boundaries between work and personal time, employers will find their workforce is more engaged and retention is improved.

  • Make everyone feel valued – It sounds clichéd, but a key part of keeping your employees motivated is making sure they feel listened to and their work matters. Almost a third (30%) of UK employees surveyed do not feel their work makes a difference, and worryingly 38% do not feel their opinion is valued at work.  It sounds simple, but you can’t underestimate the value of listening to your employees. Schedule regular catch ups with your employees and ensure everyone has a dedicated career manager who will help them create a career pathway in your organisation. If you don’t, you may find they build a career elsewhere. 

  • Create an enjoyable work atmosphere – An average employee will spend almost a quarter of an average week at work, so it is important that they enjoy what they do. Our research showed 29% of UK employees disagreed with the statement ‘I often laugh at work’; indicating they are not in a workplace that encourages enjoyment. Contrary to popular belief, a workplace that encourages employees to interact can actually be more productive, not less, according to a study by Warwick University ( Teamwork is essential to reach company goals, so create regular opportunities for interaction in and outside the workplace – it can really work wonders to keeping a team engaged.

  • Pay fair – A large percentage (38%) of UK employees do not believe they receive fair pay for their work – a shocking statistic. The impact of this kind of feeling on motivation can be huge, but employers do not have to break the bank and offer everyone a pay rise. You can think about offering other perks such as additional holiday days or small, regular bonuses for good work. Little things go a long way.

These statistics should be a wakeup call for UK businesses to evaluate their relationship with their employees and their working practices. Business leaders should look to build a genuine relationship with their employees, using transparency to build trust, and providing development and support to build a committed workforce. It’s important to drive quality management practices that prevent absenteeism while also supporting employees in genuine cases of sickness. This will not only shift attitudes towards sick days, but also improve overall employee retention and make for happier and more productive UK businesses.