'Work friction' is getting worse, say employees

Research finds employees and managers have different ideas about work friction – and it's costing money

'Work friction' is getting worse, say employees

There’s a “massive gap” between how work friction is perceived by organization heads compared with the employees who work with them.

That’s according to a survey that asked people how “work friction” had changed over time — nearly half of employees said it has gotten worse while three-quarters of their bosses said it’s the same or even better.

“While most leaders believe they are well-informed about the work friction their employees experience, this research clearly indicates a stark divide,” said Christophe Martel, co-founder and CEO of FOUNT, an SaaS provider that conducted the research.

“Despite record investment in learning and development, staffing, and technology to make work better, employee quit rates have more than doubled in the last decade – costing Fortune 500 companies hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The only way to understand what employees experience is either to play undercover boss or get work friction data. Absent this, it’s guesswork.”

Work friction costly for employers

Work friction has serious consequences on headcounts, too; 95% of employee respondents said that work friction makes them feel bad about their work – so bad, that 37% of those workers admit it’s caused them to want to take days off or quit.

A high percentage of employees (68%) also stated that work friction negatively affects their productivity as well as the quality of their customer service.

The research, “2023 Work Friction Survey” by FOUNT, found that employees experience work friction as energy they shouldn’t have to expend throughout their workday, ranging from erratic work schedules to absent managers to broken systems.

Plus, since work friction can only be experienced by employees, it is often overlooked by managers, leading to employee burnout and misdirected resources.

Research firm Gartner identified work friction as taking up two hours of wasted time per day as employees attempt to find workarounds, adding up to 3.1 million wasted hours per year for an average 10,000-employee workforce.

HR-led services less prone to work friction

A significant finding of FOUNT’s research, which interviewed over 700 employees, C-suite leaders and managers in North America, Europe and ANZ, was that 80% of work friction occurs during employees’ day-to-day as opposed to HR-managed interactions such as training or career advancement.

The report concluded that work friction is likely to get worse in most organizations before it gets better, since only 20% of manager-respondents said they are addressing work friction where it matters, at the worker’s day-to-day level.

However, 91% of leaders said that fixing work friction is a priority at their companies.

“Work friction symptoms are usually apparent, like absenteeism and low productivity. A business leader might first try to address those symptoms with a cash bonus for high performers or strict time-off rules,” Martel said.

“But like allergy sufferers, treating a stuffy nose with medication isn’t the same as addressing the root cause, such as pet dander. Treating only the symptoms means problems will persist or could even get more complicated.”

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