Employee productivity measures the outputs of employees in any given business. This can either be done very quantitatively, by tracking costs and time to compare that against the results, or a business can approach it in a more general, quantifiable way.
Employee and workplace productivity is a little like breathing. It’s vital in keeping your company alive and thriving. And when all is going well, you probably don’t think too much about it.
But when things get labored, or there’s a major blockage, operations quickly grind to a halt.
On the other hand, when things are going smoothly, they tend to continue without much intervention. And that’s a good thing.
But how do you get to that point? What turns a poor performer into a productivity powerhouse?
How do you make your employees more productive?
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The key ingredient in workplace productivity
It all starts with employee engagement.
Disengaged employees drag a company down. But engaged employees show up more often, stay longer, and are more productive overall. Currently, though, only about 34% of the U.S. workforce feels engaged.
The costs of ignoring lagging employee productivity and the underlying unhealthy company culture are steep, as the newest study suggests. Disengaged employees have higher rates of absenteeism and turnover, which can drag down profits.
And it’s not just individual companies that suffer. Actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $483 to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.
Here are 11 key strategies to increase employee productivity in the workplace and foster a culture of engagement.
1. Equip your team with the right tools
Your team’s skills are essential to business performance, but the tools they use in their work also play a huge role. Choosing the right software will make their work easier, and translates to a streamlined workflow.
Time and productivity tracking apps
There are only a limited number of hours in a work day, and an infinite number of tasks your team has to complete. This is where a time tracking app, like Hubstaff, come in. Hubstaff makes it easy to track your team’s hours and productivity with activity rates, so your business can improve workplace efficiency.
With Hubstaff, you can assign specific projects and tasks to each team member, so they know exactly what needs to get done and can track time more accurately. There’s even optional random screen capture and app and URL tracking for a closer look at employee productivity. Hubstaff also has mobile apps for iOS and Android with GPS location tracking for field teams that need a boost in productivity.
Collaboration apps promote and simplify teamwork. Being able to work together in real-time is beneficial to team chemistry, and also allows ideas to come more naturally. Online collaboration tools can come in the form of project management apps like Hubstaff Tasks or Trello, or file storage and access apps like Google Drive.
Whether your team works in a traditional office or as a remote team, communication apps are a must. Emails typically get the job done, but it’s so easy to lose track of individual messages within threads. Instant messaging apps, such as Slack and Twist, do an excellent job of keeping conversations organized and messages easy to keep track of. Most communication platforms offer file sharing and access as well, so that the team’s workflow is as streamlined as can be.
2. Improve cultural fit with better recruiting
Zappos famously approaches hiring more like a courtship than a typical recruitment process. Future employees are screened, first and foremost, for how well they’ll fit in with Zappos’ Family Core Values.
Such a strong focus on cultural fit even before employees log their first hour can save time and money down the road.
In a post for RecruitLoop, Manager Foundation’s Keith Tatley writes:
While on the surface cultural fit may not seem like a critical factor in the hiring process, it is arguably one of the most important selection criteria.
Conversely, nabbing an employee that does fit your company culture is likely to energize other employees. This results in increased motivation and productivity, adds Tatley.
3. Improve employee skills with training
Once screened, hired, and on the job, training is a crucial part of ensuring productivity.
There are a lot of skills you can help your employees develop to improve their productivity — from small day-to-day skills like touch typing and spreadsheet manipulation, to bigger ones like developing the ideal time management style for their work.
A 2013 study in the International Journal of Science and Research found that training greatly benefits both employers and employees. Proper training also leads to greater efficiency and productivity.
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Across the study, this held true for both new and existing employees.
By improving your training processes, you can train new hires without losing your mind. It works for us, and it can work for you.
4. Encourage autonomy by not micromanaging
Back in February of 2015, we interviewed Robby Slaughter, a productivity expert. And he surprised us with his advice:
He told us that the most effective tool for increasing team productivity is having managers back off.
“The best way to encourage productivity is to encourage individuals to take ownership over how they manage their own time and resources,” says Slaughter.
“This is a wonderfully self-correcting process: we want people who are self-starters and are able to operate independently. Granting workers freedom over when, how, and where they work creates proof of their work ethic in a way that trying to control them cannot.”
It’s counter-intuitive: manage less and get better results.
But science backs up this premise. Most people are more strongly motivated by autonomy than financial rewards.
So just stay out of the kitchen. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy.
Micromanaging can be second nature to managers who have made a habit of it. They excel at day-to-day operations, budget management, and solving problems. But they’re now required to engage in more strategic thinking.
And that’s hard.
“At higher levels managers usually need to dial down their operational focus and learn how to be more strategic,” Ron Ashkenas writes in the Harvard Business Review.
“To do so, managers have to trust their people to manage day-to-day operations and coach them as needed, rather than trying to do it for them.”
Learning how to let go and allow your employees to take control can spare you from an all-too-common vicious cycle of despair:
Managers hover. Employees get nervous and perform poorly. So managers continue to hover.
It’s a continuous, unproductive loop.
Stop it before it starts by trusting your employees to be independent.
5. Focus on the future with clear communication
It’s true in romance, and it’s true in business:
Communication is the key to success.
Without effective, two-way communication, relationships end and businesses fail. Managers who effectively communicate clear expectations and responsibilities to their employees will be rewarded with an engaged, productive workforce.
To get started creating a culture of positive communication, flip the typical script.
A CRM Learning article posits that 80% of a work-related conversation is spent on the problems of the past. That includes assigning blame.
15% is spent on what’s happening now.
And the amount of time spent discussing solutions and future possibilities?
A tiny 5%.
Focusing on the future—instead of rehashing past issues—demonstrates your commitment to moving forward. And that helps you find positive solutions.
This doesn’t mean you should ignore past failures. Instead, learn to approach negative situations in a positive, productive way.
“For example, if a meeting is held to address something like decreased productivity, the meeting itself will be more productive if it begins by pointing out positives that have also occurred recently,” according to CRM.
Modeling positive, open communication sets a precedent for team members at every level.
Check out our tips on how to get started improving team-wide communication and engagement.
6. Boost productivity by encouraging self-care
Between 1996 and 2000, the number of employees calling in sick to work due to stress tripled.
And what’s the most common source of stress?
The American Institute of Stress says that “occupational pressures and fears are far and away the leading source of stress for American adults.”Occupational stresses and fears are the leading cause of stress among American adults. Click To Tweet
That’s a big deal. Even when they do show up, excessively stressed employees are physically, mentally, and emotionally unhealthier. They’re also less productive.
When your team is stressed, everybody loses.
But the right kind of stress is actually motivating and good for productivity. The aim is to combat burnout before it happens.
By encouraging team members at all levels to care for their mental, physical, and emotional health.
That means doing all the things necessary to foster a healthy, communicative company culture:
- listening to employees
- offering constructive feedback
- giving employees challenging, meaningful work
- establishing clear parameters for success
Even keeping your equipment up to date can help, as Amy Blackburn notes in “6 Ways to Prevent Employee Burnout.”
Managers also have to model self care by showing—not just telling—employees that you value things like good sleep, work-life balance, and taking time for exercise and relaxation.
7. Get more done with remote work
Remote workers are more productive.
We dove deep into the research and found a lot of interesting things. Remote workers more productive, they log more hours, take less sick leave, perform better, and in general are more engaged at work.
And guess what? All this leads to significant cost savings for businesses.
Unsurprisingly, companies are catching on.
From 2012 to 2016, Gallup reports the number of employees working remotely jumped from 39% to 43%. And a Global Workplace Analytics survey found remote work has seen 103% growth among non self-employed telecommuters over the last decade.
8. Don’t lock down social media
Employees use social media for a variety of reasons.
Some are taking a mental break, others are using social tools to support professional connections, and sure, some are just slacking off. But cracking down on social media platforms as a way to encourage productivity can be a serious morale killer.
Strict rules around social media send a message that you don’t trust your employees. And those social media mavens, it turns out, aren’t just killing time—they’re killing it at work, too.
An Evolv study found that social media “power users” were better multi-taskers, more productive overall, and happier in their jobs.#socialmedia power users are more productive at work—but finding balance is still crucial. Click To Tweet
And if there’s one key takeaway from current research highlighting the importance of an engaged workforce, it’s that happy employees are more productive.
If you feel the need to monitor how much time your employees are spending on social media, you can do that. Employee monitoring software, though it comes with its own morale issues, can be a big help here.
9. Increase employee satisfaction with great perks
Tech giants like Google and Facebook understand the importance of job satisfaction.
And if Google and Facebook think it’s a good idea, you should pay attention.
These companies have become famous for offerings like massage rooms, nap pods, and complementary haircuts. And they’re onto something.
A recent Glassdoor survey reveals that four out of five employees would prefer perks to a pay raise.
You don’t have to be a Silicon Valley powerhouse to provide your team with extras that add up to loyalty and increased morale.
Think about perks that simply enrich employees’ lives:
- Twillo gives employees a Kindle and a monthly stipend to buy books
- Burton offers free ski passes
- REI gives employees two full days off to do their favorite things outside
- Tesla employees save up to 35% on movie tickets
- eMarketer gives out business books
- NutraClick subsidizes gym memberships
For remote team leaders, entrepreneur Miles Burke offers a handful of extras leaders can extend to off-site workers to sweeten the team dynamic.
10. Gain insight by measuring productivity
In today’s knowledge economy, businesses deal in ideas rather than widgets coming off an assembly line. Because of that, the classic formula for productivity no longer applies.
You can’t just divide output by input to measure employee productivity.
“When it comes to knowledge work, productivity is really hard to measure,” says Wharton Business School Professor Lynn Wu.
“It’s nowhere near as simple as the number of bushels a worker picked in an hour.”
But the fact remains: what gets measured gets managed.
It’s more important than ever to measure productivity appropriately. Read about productivity metrics in this post.
That starts with valuing the quality of the work as much as the quantity and resisting the urge to implement blanket policies that can alienate high-producing employees and cause overall morale to plummet.
To adequately and appropriately measure productivity for today’s business environment, you need a productivity-measuring tool. These tools allow you to monitor, streamline, and manage projects across your entire team in a way that’s intuitive and easy to use.
11. Get higher-quality work by fostering morale
In the end, it all comes down to this: happy, engaged employees work harder, smarter, and better.
Those who hate their jobs and feel disenfranchised or underappreciated may go through the motions, but burnout is all but inevitable.
When ingredients like open communication, a focus on self-care and autonomy, and the basic human needs of trust and respect are baked into a company culture, the result is better employee productivity.
While creating a company culture that fosters positive morale isn’t always easy, the important thing is to just start.
Throw open the lines of communication, let go of micromanaging, find the good in what your employees are doing (and tell them about it), and show you care.
Boost your company’s employee productivity today
Many of the strategies for increasing productivity at work listed above might seem counterintuitive—but it’s been shown over and over again that happy, engaged employees are more efficient.
You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on high-end perks to foster this engagement, though.
All you need to do is put yourself in your employees’ shoes and ask yourself how you can improve your work culture so it’s more conducive to productivity. Check out our guide on productivity techniques.
Put in some time and effort in the coming months, and you’ll start to see employee productivity on the rise.
Want more ideas on how to improve workplace productivity? Check out our guide to choosing business productivity software.
How do you create a productive environment at work? Do you focus on engagement? Increase productivity? Encourage remote work? Share your best tips in the comments below!
This post was originally published April 2017, and was updated December 2018.