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UK workers among the least creative new research suggests: US workers come out on top

Employees in the UK report to be able to work creatively less frequently than those in other leading economies, according to new research from Steelcase, which ranks six countries on how frequently employees are using their creativity at work.

This is a critical issue as digital transformation is rapidly upending the world of work; routine tasks are disappearing and organisations across sectors increasingly need workers to think creatively and solve difficult problems.

The study of nearly 5,000 workers around the globe, carried out by Harris Interactive, found that in the UK only 36% of people are creative on a daily basis – placing the UK behind the US, Germany and France.

“Being creative at work is critical for organisations, given the acceleration of changes in the market. New technologies are creating the conditions that allow start-ups and new entrants to challenge dominant market players, and that competition is coming from different corners of the globe”.

Being attentive to disruptions before they happen means that a significant portion of the organization needs to maintain a critical eye on existing processes; identify new problems, and must be willing to approach the work differently, to try new things.” says Beatriz Arantes, WorkSpace Futures at Steelcase. “Creativity is an important skill for future employability as well. The more procedural a job is, the higher the risk of automation in the future.”

What’s Holding Creativity Back in the UK?

Promisingly, over half of UK respondents (52%) indicated they would like to be more creative at work and there’s no question the UK wants to remain at the forefront of innovation: the UK has had a start-up boom in the last few years and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently said that London is “the biggest innovation hub in Europe.”

So, what is holding creativity back in the UK? The study provides some indicators:

  • Organisational Barriers: More UK workers than the other countries survey rank workload as an issue, with 42% reporting it as the biggest barrier to creativity, followed by organisational process.  It’s perhaps not surprising that UK workers were more likely to say technology and physical space are barriers – considering the UK has more than twice as many open plan offices than the global average with 49% entirely open plan.
  • Resistance to Change: Unlike the other lower-ranked countries, UK workers aren’t as eager to be more creative. Spanish workers most want change with 62% wanting more creative opportunity, followed by Japan (60%) and France (57%). Meanwhile UK workers are in-line with the two countries where workers are already most frequently creative – matching US workers who want more opportunity at 52% and only outpacing Germany (44%).
  • Don’t See a Need: UK is the only country where over half (53%) expect their job will require the same level of creativity in five years. UK workers are also LEAST likely to believe their job will require more creativity in the next five years, with only 32% saying they believe this will be the case.

Despite the barriers, over half of UK respondents are seeking opportunities to stretch their creative muscles. Steelcase researchers have further explored ways organisations are and can make changes to foster a culture of innovation.

“Everybody has the power to be creative, but for organisations to maximise the benefits of a creative workforce they must provide environments which foster creativity and what it means to individuals,” continues Arantes. “This includes the physical design of the workspace, which has the power to inspire creative workstyles and behaviours. As the creative process requires both convergent and divergent thinking, employees require different spaces that encourage this to happen. That means areas for people to come together in small or large groups, but also moving apart to do work alone.”

Data Snapshot:

  Current Creative Frequency (Daily) Want to be creative more frequently Expect job will require same creativity in 5 years Expect job will require more creativity in 5 years
US 44% 52% 44% 42%
Germany 41% 44% 47% 34%
France 38% 57% 46% 38%
UK 36% 52% 53% 32%
Spain 34% 62% 43% 34%
Japan 29% 60% 42% 44%