6 Small Ways to Improve Employee Productivity

It’s a rat race out there. Regardless of our level or experience, as business and organizational leaders we are all tasked with increasing revenue, driving business results and improving process and productivity.

Often the last thought on our minds is having fun, let alone building or driving employee engagement, development or creativity. But it should be. Especially when you consider that employee unproductivity is costing U.S. companies $2.5 trillion dollars every year according to recent analysis my friend Marylene Delbourg-Delphis. Her analysis doesn’t factor in the cost of recruiting, new employee training and onboarding, but once we do, I believe the cost of employee disengagement and productivity could be as high as four or even five trillion dollars a year. Let’s let that sink in for a second. Employee unproductivity is costing U.S. organizations at least $4 trillion dollars every year.

Employee productivity isn’t just about producing more widgets in less time. It’s bigger than that. Employees who are disengaged in their jobs feel stifled by their boss or are underpaid feel unappreciated and apathetic. It’s a symptom of a bigger organizational and operational problem at your company.

The goal we are striving for is simple. Employees are (finally) happy. They are engaged in their jobs. They have fun at work. Real engagement goes far beyond your company offices or corporate headquarters. Happy employees take 10 times less sick leave according to a study by iOpener Institute for People and Performance. The study also suggests that happy sales professionals at your place of business increase sales by 36%. Sales numbers and metrics make it easier to connect the dots directly to productivity and engagement. Unfortunately, most of your workforce isn’t in a sales or widget making role making employee productivity and engagement extremely hard to measure. There are so many variables and ways that employee engagement touches an employee’s quality of work as well as quality of life that we can’t or won’t factor in.

Companies like Southwest Airlines work hard not only to hire for culture fit but to make sure that the Southwest culture and values are considered first by every employee regardless of their level. During a recent podcast interview with Julie Weber, the VP of People at Southwest, she shared with me how they hire for a warrior spirit, a service heart and fun loving attitude first before focusing on a job candidate skills and experience with the exception of positions like their pilots.

Organizational Change Takes Time – 18-24 Months

The path to improving employee productivity, driving employee happiness and improving your employee’s overall quality of work and life is not so simple. There is no secret formula or magic pill no matter what business consultants tell you. According to John P. Kotter in Leading Change, any type of organizational change, positive or negative takes 18-24 months to become engrained into the company’s culture.    Whether you are leading change for a Fortune 100 organization or your five-person team, your experiences and positive leadership can have a life-lasting effect.

That 18-24 month time period is a hard pill to swallow especially in a consumer driven world with video streaming on demand thanks to Netflix and Amazon delivery to our doorstep within the hour. Waiting on something as slow as organizational change is hard, especially when you are balancing employee or customer wants and needs with the interests of investors or Wall-Street.

6 Small Ways to Improve Employee Productivity

Business leaders can help satisfy the need for immediate results by focusing on smaller organizational wins in the form of low hanging fruit to help demonstrate the impact of how your larger mission can transform employee productivity. We have to take a coaching mindset in our role as organization leaders in order to drive organizational change.

Focus on yourself.

As a business leader, we can never stop learning, growing or evolving not just to improve our business bottom line but in order to be a better leader for our teams. Great leaders build habits that set them up for success. I’m enjoying reading Michael Bungay Stanier’s newest book, The Coaching Habit which helps leaders develop their own coaching skills and abilities to help set not just themselves but their employees up for success.

Be present but don’t micromanage.  

Employees need to be empowered in order to be their best selves at the office. Employees need to be given freedom to think for themselves and work in a space that isn’t constrained at every turn. Companies like Southwest Airlines put their employees above their customers and even shareholders making their workplace not just a great place but an amazing place to work.

Recognize good work.

How can something so simple improve quality of work? Create and implement a low cost employee engagement plan. Don’t just recognize but make a considerable effort to acknowledge good work leading by example so that other organizational leaders will follow. A simple thank you can go a long way.

Set goals, reward if met.

Have production goals that need to be met by the end of the day? Set a goal and do something fun if the goal is met. Giving your employees a challenge throughout the day will give them something to work towards and generally they will go above and beyond to meet the goal. Your workforce and the factors that motivate them are varied. Test out and change up your goals and plans to make the workplace challenging, interesting and fun. These simple rewards will revitalize your employees and give them more drive to produce the same results outside a rewards system.

Challenge your employees.

To go one step further on setting and meeting goals, challenge your employees with new tasks that might be outside their job function but let them guide the path and discussion sharing their ultimate personal or professional goal. As a leader you can help them build a path to reach that dream. Challenge an employee to head a taskforce or committee to identify, evaluate, and come up with a solution. Making employees feel like they are apart of a bigger change will encourage them and keep the quality of their productivity up.

Food is fun.

Food and other workplace perks can be a powerful motivator for your workplace, but it’s more than that. Free lunches boost workplace morale and wellness (depending on what you provide for them). Like holiday gatherings, food can bring team members and organizations together to build trust, establish relationships and make memories that shape employees for years to go both inside and outside of your organization. Food and other team perks in my opinion are more about improving team dynamics and relationships. Don’t forget about food based team building events like company picnics, happy hours and lunch outings. 

Respect Employee Down Time.

Employees need time to recharge away from the workplace spending time with family, friends and doing things that they love. Business leaders who respect the boundaries of their employees build not only trust with their team but also get the most out of their employees. Most important, respect is free.

Employees need to be empowered in order to be their best selves at the office. Employees need to be given freedom to think for themselves and work in a space that isn’t constrained at every turn. Companies like Southwest Airlines put their employees above their customers and even shareholders making their workplace not just a great place but an amazing place to work.

Leading is tough. It requires focus, patience and strategic vision in addition to great relationships and an engaged employee population who is willing to give better than their best because your inspiration is built on meaningful connections that make working fun, challenging and interesting.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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