Innovation is crucial to achieving economic and social outcomes

Innovation is often associated with invention, automation and research and development. While these are important, workplace innovation is much broader, focusing on organisational, technical and social innovation to drive value creation and deliver rewarding work.

Innovation is crucial to improving productivity, performance, competitiveness and growth, as well as improving living standards. International organisations, including the OECD and the European Union (EU), promote innovation. Innovations are systematic improvements in business processes which depend on accessing new sources of ideas and on the motivation to embed innovation throughout business activities. The OECD has urged governments and businesses ‘to put the organisation of work more centrally in the analysis of innovation’, while the EU has made workplace innovation a priority of the Innovation Union strategy.

For the UK, innovation is predicted to account for up to 70% of economic growth in the long term. Innovative businesses are expected to grow twice as fast, and be less likely to fail, than non-innovators. Yet Scottish and the rest of the UK (rUK) data suggests that innovative activities are concentrated in specific sectors, while other sectors report greater innovation and performance lags compared with EU averages. In addition, there are long standing concerns over the relatively small proportion of firms engaged in innovative activities in Scotland and rUK. Innovation, and workplace innovation in particular, is key to addressing the longstanding productivity gap between both Scotland and rUK relative to G7 competitors.

Therefore, work and workplaces are crucial to creating sustainable innovation and growth. Inclusive and engaging workplaces provide staff with good quality jobs that utilise their skills and develop their talents effectively enabling these staff, in turn, to deliver high levels of performance and future innovation.

However, when looking at the characteristics associated with productivity and innovation, UK businesses overall lag businesses in more successful EU economies. To illustrate, only 35% of UK employees report having jobs that give scope to learn and problem solve, below the EU average of 39% and significantly behind countries like Denmark (60%) and the Netherlands (64%) (EWCS 2012). Similarly, more UK employees report lower opportunities for learning and innovation than in the rest of the EU15 countries (EWCS 2012). Worryingly, more than half of the employees surveyed in the UK Workplace Employment Relations Survey 2012 reported that their skills are not fully utilised in their jobs.

Yet there is evidence of a positive relationship between jobs that stretch and challenge employees and business innovation. The statistics above, therefore, suggest that there is considerable untapped potential in UK firms. Workplace innovation can unleash this potential.

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