Everything You Need to Know to Boost Employee Productivity

Boosting employee productivity means boosting your bottom line.

You could say that employee productivity was merely how much an employee did in certain period of time, but it is so much more than simply the number of sales or units produced, though such things are very important to your business.

Instead, employee productivity is directly tied to the attitudes and happiness of your employees. Employees stay, and they work more and make more for you, if they want to.

If you can’t get beyond the number measurements of productivity, you’ll find your business has stagnated as your employees constantly cycle in and out.

Boost Employee Productivity With A Great Atmosphere

Long-term productivity isn’t something you can trick out of an employee. Instead, the most valuable productivity an employee can give you is one he wants to give you. By creating a great working atmosphere, you encourage positive feelings in employees towards both their work and towards the company in general.

An atmosphere of learning.

Providing employee training and learning opportunities builds confidence, shows you value an employee, and gives them the ability to do better work.

In other words, all the key ingredients to being productive.

The know there’s a chance to learn on the job, stay current, learn new skills, and improve their job.

An atmosphere of listening.

Listening to your employees is more than eavesdropping or having an open door to your office. Those are passive methods of listening. Consider active methods, in which you ask specific questions of employees about things they might not have considered talking to you about.

What are some questions you could ask your employees?

  • Are there any procedures or systems we use that make your job harder? Pay attention. Change what you can, and clearly explain the need for those that you can’t.
  • Do you have the right tools to get your job done? This can be a question about technology or even analog tools. Which tools do they hate using? Why? Do they have a better idea of what they could use?
  • On the days that you don’t feel productive, what do you think is the culprit? This is an employee’s opportunity talk about tasks and jobs that take too much time, aren’t a good fit for their position, or to communicate a sense of being over-worked.
  • Are there areas that you think you need more training in? Find out where an employee isn’t confident, because a lack of confidence keeps them from charging ahead and being productive.

An atmosphere of trusting.

You can create an atmosphere where employees feel free to do their job without a sense of someone lording over them.

For starters, consider relaxing the internet restrictions you place on your employees. Harsh restrictions create fear and turn employees, who are used to the internet being threaded into the rest of their lives, into “criminals” according to your rules. Keep an eye out for whether or not allowing some social media access, for example, affects performance or not. It might not, to your surprise and to your employee’s joy. Granted, there are still going to have to be restrictions. For example, hourly employees making or serving food will still need to put their smartphones away. But, within reason, relax on those types of standards.

Another area is in employee monitoring. You have to monitor employees productivity and output to some degree. But can you do it in a way where they don’t feel the pressure or presence of monitoring? For example, if an employee’s output takes a dip one month, do they get called on the carpet for slipping, or do you see what happens another month to determine if there’s a pattern?

Additionally, what you do with the information gathered from monitoring matters. Punitive use (i.e. punishment for low numbers) is less useful than using it to find out if an employee is going through a hard time or needs some help.

Employees have to trust that if they do their best as often as they can, they will not be shamed, embarrassed, or disciplined. They have to trust that if they need a break and are near burnout, they will be helped, not fired.

An atmosphere of motivation.

What happens when employees know you listen, that they can trust you, and that they have the opportunity to learn and further their career? They feel motivated internally to do good work and be more productive.

Consider this statement: internal motivation is better than external motivation.

In other words, rewards for random goals someone else created for us that will mostly benefit them lose their effectiveness over time.

What are your employees motivated by? Have you ever asked them? Are the motivated by money, by being part of something larger than themselves, or are they motivated by the chance for promotion? Find out what motivates.

Once you have the right atmosphere, and you know what motivates your employees, you’re ready to consider employee incentives.

Boost Employee Productivity With The Right Incentives

Incentives seem like the easy way to get people to do more. “Sell X number of units, and we’ll give you a bonus!”

Incentives can work, but sometimes they backfire in a big way.

Overly ambitious and specific goals can be harmful.

When you think of using incentives to increase employee productivity, goals come to mind. After all, that’s what we use to encourage and measure performance success. And performance success is what productivity is, isn’t it?

Not necessarily.

When you create a goal, be careful of what you create. Sometimes, overly ambitious goals can end up being harmful for your business as employees fixate on meeting the goal above more important needs.

A 2009 study for Harvard Business School revealed that the wrong goal makes otherwise good and honest employees do some bad things, with the authors of the study stating that “goal setting has been over-prescribed.” Indiscriminate productivity goals set for no important purpose other than to reach the goal itself have terrible results. The study shared three examples of goals that went wild.

  • Goals that encourage employees to deceive. No employer sets a goal to get employees to cheat customers, but sometimes their goals inadvertently have that effect. For example, Sears, Roebuck and Co created goals for their auto repair staff in the early 1990s. They wanted their staff to bring in $147/hour. Instead of increasing employee productivity, staff began overcharging customers and complete unnecessary repairs to meet the goal.
  • Goals that run the company into the ground. When financial goals are the focus, loopholes and “creative” bookkeeping often emerge. In the late 1990’s, Enron had created an incentive system in their energy trading company that doled out a commission based on how much an employee achieved in sales. This system let the employee set the price of the goods sold. Executives received large bonuses for meeting revenue goals. Employees and executives met the goals, but they did so in a way that ran the company into the ground by cooking the books.
  • Goals that create bad products and customer experiences. In the 1960’s, Ford Motor Company set a goal on a short timeline for a lightweight inexpensive car that could compete with foreign markets. Because the specifications of the car were precise and difficult to design to, and because the timeline was so short, management began signing off on safety checks whether the car passed or not simply to meet the looming deadline. The car in question was the Ford Pinto, a car which caused many deaths due to a design flaw. Ford met their goal, but the product was bad.

Setting goals that avoid harmful results.

It seems that setting goals is the easiest way to move the needle on productivity, because you can measure what you’ve done based on where you are at in regards to the goal. As you’ve just read, though, goals can go haywire.

Setting goals for your employees isn’t a bad thing, but the Harvard Business Review study outlines a method for avoiding disastrous goals.

  • Don’t get too specific. When goals are too specific without much breathing room, trouble starts. Extremely specific goals lead to narrow focus and tunnel vision, and your employees will focus solely on the meeting the goal at the expense of things like honesty, ethics, safety, or camaraderie.
  • Don’t set too many goals. Too many goals tend to lead to one goal. Employees can’t split their focus and effort in too many directions, so they choose a goal and focus on that. In this scenario, goals that are easiest to measure (quantity, time, dollars) are the focus while goals that are more difficult to measure (quality, customer service) are ignored. It’s this latter type of goal that serves your business the best, unfortunately.
  • Be realistic about the timeline. Providing too little time to achieve the goal forces your employees to cut corners and rush their work.
  • Be wary about time-specific goals. Time-specific goals have a tendency to create myopia in your employees; they focus not on the work but on the time period. They fail to see the larger picture and account for what happens in the future. If they hit the goal in the time laid out, they shut down and tune out. If they aren’t meeting their goal in time, they’ll do whatever it takes to do so.
  • Create learning goals rather than performance goals. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking productivity is measured by performance, and so those are the goals you should create. However, learning goals are better in the long run. When employees are only concerned about how they perform in their job, they never learn beyond the bare minimum required to do the tasks before them. Fixating on performance prohibits employees from learning from mistakes. Determine if a performance goal is really what you need, and if you couldn’t create a learning goal instead.

When the goals you set are too challenging for any of these reasons, you won’t see an increase in employee productivity, but you’ll see an increase in unethical behavior, foolish risks being taken, unnecessary competition between employees that can lead to hard feelings, a decrease in overall motivation for anything not associated with a goal, and an stress level that will leave you with dissatisfied employees and customers.

Don’t use incentives and goals if you don’t know what your employees are motivated by, and where they have a weakness. At best, the wrong incentive doesn’t work. At worst, it hurts your business.

Rethink Your Management Practices

Employee productivity crashes when management works against them. Such a simple thing–good management–goes a long way to increase employee productivity. How you manage people is so crucial to your business that we created a handbook about the topic. When it comes to employee productivity, management is tied right into it.

What kind of management kills employee productivity?

  • Indecisive leadership. Management must be willing to listen to employees, but at some point they must make a decision and stick to it. Employees who never know which way the wind blows, or whether yesterday’s management decision will still be in force today, are employees who aren’t productive. They are, instead, uneasy and unsure, and they don’t trust their leadership. Gather input, make a decision, communicate the what and why of the decision, and stick with it.
  • Disrespectful leadership. Most managers don’t think they’re disrespectful, but disrespect takes many forms. You can disrespect your employee’s time, wasting it with pointless meetings, unnecessary paperwork, or giving them more work than they can handle. You can disrespect the work they do by not acknowledging its importance and value periodically and sincerely. You can disrespect your employees ideas by not giving them a chance to share and having no track record of ever attempting to try an employee idea.
  • Untrustworthy leadership. Employees follow as they are led, and if management isn’t trustworthy or ethical, employees will follow suit. If management says things they don’t believe, employees can see through it. If management doesn’t take responsibility for their mistakes, employees won’t either.
  • Lazy leadership. Managers that aren’t productive and aren’t willing to work hard have employees that do the same. There are few worse things than a manager who feels her job is merely to delegate work to others and sit in the office and do very little.
  • Confused leadership. Employees with multiple bosses or levels of management above them cannot be productive if each boss is communicating a different message.

When it comes to increasing employee productivity, get management right before you start working on employees. If it’s wrong at the top, it won’t work down the ladder no matter how hard you try.

The trick to boosting employee productivity is that it isn’t a trick at all.

There’s no numbers game, no clever goals. Such approaches can’t be sustained in the long run, and will probably do more damage than they will good. Sustainable productivity happens when a person enjoys the work , enjoys the challenge of the work, sees a future in the job, or enjoys the people they work with. Happy employees who know they are part of a team going in the same direction are productive employees.

Everything You Need to Know to Boost Employee Productivity