UK workers’ specialist skills are under threat as professionals now typically spend at least 10 hours a week – or 65 days a year – on activities outside of their main remit.  A new survey of 2,000 white collar professionals by recruiter PageGroup found that workers’ specialist skills are often being diluted within just two years of them entering a new job. As a result, over half (51%) of the professional workers surveyed now consider themselves to be generalists, despite being employed on the strength of their specialist skills, and a third (31%) report that it has a negative impact on their productivity.

Developing a generalist skill-set is normally associated with promotion and seniority but PageGroup’s research found that ‘responsibility creep’ is starting to seriously affect people’s working lives at all levels. Over a third (38%) reported a negative impact on work-life balance and one in four (25%) feel that increased generalist responsibilities has a negative effect on their motivation levels.

Diluting the specialist skills of the workforce can also impact a business’ ability to innovate, as nearly half (46%) of respondents said that specialist skills lead to increased levels of innovation, whilst 52% believe that specialist skills are needed to improve problem solving.

Oliver Watson, managing director at PageGroup, comments: “In a difficult economy it’s inevitable that people have had to take on extra responsibilities, but the mantra of ‘doing more with less’ cannot continue as a long-term strategy. Giving employees additional tasks outside their main remit can help to broaden their skill-sets and prepare them for senior roles but it’s happening far too quickly in many cases, which is putting specialist skills and business growth at risk.

“If this trend continues, we risk creating a generation of generalists which will undoubtedly hinder individual’s career development, and ultimately damage the UK’s ability to compete effectively in a global economy.”

The move away from specialist skills is already worrying many employees. One in three professionals (33%) are concerned that their company is not hiring enough specialists and even more (38%) believe that the lack of specialist skills in their company is placing unnecessary pressure on them to meet customer demands.

Individuals are also worried about the impact that the switch from ‘specialist’ to ‘generalist’ will have on their own professional development. Almost a third (29%) of those surveyed fear that becoming more generalist will threaten their future job prospects and one in five (19%) think that the continued addition of non-core activities will have a negative effect on their future earning potential.

Watson concludes: “The ideal workplace should have a balance of specialist and business skills but we seem to have reached a tipping point where unique skills are being eroded. In the majority of cases, professionals aren’t even getting any training on their new responsibilities, which is only exacerbating the problem and hampering the workforce’s ability to be productive.

“Businesses need to understand the long-term implications of spreading their workforce too thinly and give employees the chance to excel in their chosen field. If organisations want to have competitive edge, they need to consider ways in which they can harness specialist skills and this needs to start at the point of recruitment and continue right through an individual’s career.”