New research conducted by Slack highlights the detrimental impact of a focus on performative work over actual impact, as UK businesses lag behind countries like Germany, France, India, and Singapore in embracing the efficiency benefits of AI and automation.

The study, based on insights from 2,000 desk workers in the UK, reveals a significant gap in the adoption of AI tools for productivity improvement, with only 21 percent of UK companies utilising such tools compared to 75 percent in India, 35 percent in Singapore, 29 percent in Germany, and 23 percent in France.

One concerning finding is that 37 percent of UK workers have their productivity measured based on visibility metrics, such as hours spent in the office or online. Consequently, nearly one-third (30%) of an average workday is wasted on performative tasks that do not contribute to company goals but are carried out solely to appear productive.

The study also indicates that 38 percent of UK desk workers cite staying motivated as their top productivity barrier, potentially fueled by a lack of engagement with high-value work. Comparisons with international counterparts reveal that UK employees produce approximately one-sixth less per hour than their counterparts in the US, France, and Germany, highlighting the urgent need to solve the productivity puzzle.

Automation and AI are identified as the key to boosting productivity and shifting focus away from presenteeism. By leveraging these technologies, organisations can streamline time-consuming and mundane tasks, allowing employees to dedicate more attention to impactful work.

The study reveals that approximately 47 percent of respondents believe AI can enhance productivity, while automation enables:

  • 59% to achieve more with less time and resources
  • 42% to concentrate on tasks with greater impact
  • 32% to improve work-life balance
  • 25% to increase engagement at work

Despite recognising these benefits, the study reveals that 52 percent of organisations in the UK struggle with implementing new technologies and AI, showcasing a lack of tech-savviness. While a minority (26%) are early adopters, the majority must take more significant steps to leverage the advantages of streamlined and optimised processes through a central productivity platform.

Another challenge highlighted in the research is the disconnect between executives and employees regarding the value of flexibility in work arrangements. As businesses navigate the hybrid work model, external pressures and rising economic uncertainty further complicate the situation. This dynamic may contribute to a continued emphasis on performative metrics that fail to generate genuine value for workers or businesses.

Interestingly, executives express concerns about the potential decline in productivity associated with flexible working hours, with 40 percent of leaders highlighting this as a top concern. They also cite coordination challenges (36%) as a significant hurdle. However, 39 percent of employees argue that they are, in fact, more productive when granted the freedom to choose their working hours.

The findings of this study underscore the urgent need for UK businesses to shift their focus from performative work to impactful outcomes and embrace the benefits of AI and automation. To remain competitive on a global scale, organisations must overcome the barriers hindering the implementation of new technologies and foster a culture that prioritises engagement and high-value work. By leveraging the power of AI and automation, companies can unlock greater productivity and efficiency, propelling the UK workforce towards success in an increasingly competitive digital landscape.

Industry insight to help solve the UK’s workplace productivity puzzle:

Speaking from Slack’s panel ‘solving the productivity puzzle’ at Salesforce World Tour London:

Slack’s Head of Customer Success Chris Mills commented:

“UK productivity has long been a challenge. With AI and automation, organisations can start piecing together the productivity puzzle by streamlining the mundane tasks that drain days of value. The majority of UK desk workers (83%) say having the right tech to collaborate would boost productivity. By deploying a productivity platform with AI and automations built-in, executives can increase impact, empower employees to deliver on the work that matters to them, and create a clear return for their businesses.” 

Dr Alexandra Dobra-Kiel at Behave commented: 

“AI is redefining how we work. But we have to build work cultures underpinned by psychological safety so that employees use AI to their advantage, instead of worrying that AI will replace them. That’s why employees should be humble and vulnerable about their weaknesses and strengths so that businesses can train and upskill them; showing employees how to use AI to support productivity by freeing them to focus on the work that matters most.” 

Tom Bennett, Senior Director, Workplace Technology at commented:

“AI is an emerging opportunity for a lot of businesses and teams. We need to keep lines of communication open as we start deploying these tools so that we can listen to feedback, refine approaches and keep improving efficiency. Keeping an open mind and embracing flexibility (and shifting strategies if needed) will be key as we all start integrating AI into our working lives.“ 

Sanj Bhayro, GM of EMEA at Asana commented: 

To untap AI’s vast potential to bolster productivity, we have to be responsible in how we develop it. That means having principles that guide use of AI to ensure it helps humanity thrive. This combination of AI, human ingenuity and decision-making, and accountability will help businesses unleash their potential and drive productivity in a way that benefits everyone. 





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.