Literacy and numeracy in your workplace

Literacy and numeracy in your workplace

Last updated 31 May 2024
Last updated 31 May 2024

This page has information on literacy and numeracy issues in the workplace, and how these can affect your business.

Workplace literacy and numeracy is the mix of skills employees need to complete everyday tasks at work, including skills to communicate with customers, understand health and safety information, keep accurate records and follow production schedules.

Many adults in the workforce do not have the literacy, numeracy and language skills they need to thrive at work. When employees are struggling, the productivity of the workplace can drop and overall efficiency and safety can be impacted. 

A well-trained, highly literate and numerate workforce will help your business be more productive and your staff be more engaged.

Literacy and numeracy skills

All roles require literacy and numeracy skills, although we often take these skills for granted.

The skills employees need to be successful in the workplace may include: 

  • verbal and written communication
  • basic maths, such as counting money, taking measurements, or stock inventory
  • understanding policies and procedures
  • using technology
  • solving problems
  • making decisions.

A Workbase project mapped the literacy skills of many occupations. These job profiles provide in-depth descriptions of roles and skills and may help you better understand your employees’ skill needs.

Job profiles

Identifying literacy and numeracy skill needs

Literacy and numeracy issues can be hard to identify, and employees are often too embarrassed or fearful to tell their employer.

Signs that suggest your staff may have poor literacy and numeracy skills include: 

  • Avoiding paperwork: health and safety forms are not completed.
  • Processes and procedures not followed: correct processes and procedures are not followed even when published around the workplace.
  • Mistakes: work frequently has to be redone. Basic errors hold up the workflow. Instructions are often misunderstood.
  • Excessive wastage: wastage levels are higher than they should be. Incentives or penalties to reduce wastage make little or no difference.
  • Customer complaints: customers complain frequently about receiving no response, incomplete orders, the wrong information or poor service.
  • Accidents: your business has more workplace accidents – or near misses – than it should, even though you provide health and safety training and have processes in place.
  • Withdrawn employees: employees are reluctant to make comments or suggestions or give feedback. They shy away from problem solving and decision making.
  • Resistance to new initiatives: your employees resist making changes and come up with excuses to avoid starting a new initiative or taking on more responsibility.
  • Staff turnover and absenteeism: staff turnover is higher than you’d expect. Employees take a day off when training is scheduled. They turn down promotion opportunities.

There are specialist providers who can support you to understand the needs of your employees and your workplace.

Benefits of literacy and numeracy training 

Workplace literacy and numeracy training programmes can deliver impressive results. New Zealand employers have noted the following improvements: 

  • better verbal communication skills
  • improved reading and writing skills, enabling correct form-filling and better understanding of workplace documentation
  • fewer workplace accidents and a stronger emphasis on safety
  • improved technology skills, eg, better accuracy when keying in information on a computer
  • increased understanding of workplace processes, with a greater emphasis on how each person contributes to quality
  • less absenteeism
  • improved confidence
  • improved quality control.

Organisations that introduce literacy and numeracy programmes often increase productivity and improve their workplace culture.