The role of the human resources department has expanded in the last few years to grow past simply enforcing policies and procedures, recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and people management. HR leaders now find that they must ensure a positive employer brand, create initiatives that increase employee engagement and productivity, and establish relationships between the company and employees beyond just their tenure at the organization. Because HR has so much to do, improving existing employee engagement and productivity is not always given top priority.

Often, HR leaders are focused on attracting new talent by designing bonus programs to keep compensation up-to-date with current market trends, and focusing on training and recruiting programs. Beyond attracting talent, HR departments can help keep recruiting and hiring costs down by focusing on keeping current talent productive and providing programs that encourage both personal and professional growth.

For a solid productivity plan to work, companies should be focusing on accomplishing future goals with strategies that increase employees’ overall productivity. HR can make employees happier and more productive by providing positive training and enjoyable work environments that help retain talent.

Interested in improving employee productivity? Get started by following these 5 tips:

Productivity tip #1: Conduct an employee survey

First, try to discover what roadblocks are impeding productivity through an employee survey. If you don’t already have systems in place, many online programs allow you to create surveys that can be sent in bulk.

Ask the obvious questions first:

  1. Are you happy at work? – Often, this isn’t a question some employers are comfortable asking, but you’ll never know if your employees are satisfied if you don’t ask. It’s a problem that can be easily rectified once you have the answers.
  2. Do you understand the company career ladder and promotions? – Most employees will stick with a company when they’re fully aware of the career ladder steps and how to climb them. If you receive negative responses concerning this matter, chances are your employees do not know how to move up in their careers within the company.
  3. What would you rate your work-life balance? – To remain productive, a balanced work and home life are crucial to employees. Should you receive negative answers about this question, it’s time to review the other factors that could be causing more stress to your employees.

Other questions could include in office settings such as:

  • Office environment
  • Meeting frequency
  • Distracting noises or employees
  • Flexible work options

Ask only the questions relevant to your company’s offerings. But, the overall goal is to uncover what is hindering employee productivity and eliminate it.

5 Ways HR Can Improve Employee Productivity

Productivity tip #2: Take a physical environment inventory

If you discover that the office environment is possibly the culprit of poor productivity, there are plenty of ways to rectify this issue. For instance, a common complaint among employees is bad lighting. Too much or too little light can cause eye strain. In addition, harsh artificial lighting can trigger migraines in some people.

If lighting is causing your employees to feel uncomfortable, find ways to provide a more natural lighting option. If possible, uncover windows or find window shades that can be adjusted to let in more, or less, light. If your offices don’t have enough windows, change the types of lights you use – take out bulbs and light sources that create harsh white light for those that simulate natural lighting. Improving eye health and reducing eye strain and headaches will improve overall productivity.

In addition to light, noise level and temperature also play key roles in employee productivity. A study conducted in 2015 discovered that temperatures below 68 degrees result in a 50% drop in productivity and an increase of errors by 44%. The ideal temperature for peak employee performance is 71.5 degrees. Keeping employees comfortable will increase the likelihood that they will want to stay in the office.

The recent trend toward open offices encourage teamwork and collaboration. It also raises the overall noise level and impacts concentration and productivity. Retain the open teamwork environment while reducing noise levels by reminding employees to be courteous and establishing a workplace culture that includes:

  • Taking long phone conversations away from where people are working
  • Keeping a low voice during conversations in work areas
  • Moving lengthy conversations to designated meeting spaces
  • Showing courtesy when walking through the office with others
  • Conducting planned meetings in conference rooms

Productivity tip #3: Consider offering flexible work options

Employers find that some employees are more productive when they are allowed to work from home, at least part of the time. A study conducted by Best Buy concerning their flexible work program saw a 35% increase in productivity. Depending on the role, flex-work programs increase productivity for employees by reducing environmental stress, allowing for better concentration, and eliminating impromptu meetings.

Flexible work options have proven to reap better productivity results, happier employees, and reduced costs. If flexible work options are not already in place, start planning now, being careful to avoid flex work arrangements that lead to lower productivity and loss of individual engagement. When considering a flex work program at your organization, some best practices include:

  • Create a plan with clearly defined policies and procedures
  • Set-up communication systems to keep in contact with remote employees – in addition to email
  • Train managers and team leaders to keep remote workers accountable
  • Start with a pilot
  • Re-assess the program every year, or more, to make adjustments

Productivity tip #4: Update technology and tools 

If you’ve managed to attract top talent and maintained a staff of stellar employees, outdated tools and tech can severely impede productivity and create frustration among your best employees. Since technology is growing significantly every year, it’s important to continuously update the tools necessary to keep business processes running smoothly.

Limited budgets make it hard for employees to excel and innovate. For instance, if your company is still using Windows XP, you’re not alone, but you’re sure to encounter problems. A report by Spiceworks indicates that 50% of all businesses are still using Windows XP—even though program support ended in 2014. Even if you’ve been able to attract talent in the past, having substandard tools will make it harder to retain those employees and attract the best candidates in the future.

In addition to slowing down employee productivity, older software and hardware is more susceptible to viruses and hackers, resulting in hefty costs to remedy. Some ideas to improve upon technology, includes:

  • Review the company budget to decide which areas require immediate upgrades of tools and software
  • Set up a software/hardware transition plan to upgrade to new equipment in groups
  • Prepare training materials and block out time to get employees up to speed on newly acquired technology tools
  • Monitor success of newly implemented tech and perform frequent software/hardware updates

Productivity tip #5: Support creativity and innovation

While it’s important to set guidelines, goals, and expectations for employees, it’s just as important to provide room for flexibility, innovation, and creativity. Limiting creativity and innovation in favor of doing things the way they’ve always been done or the “XYZ company way” is the best way to kill productivity and employee engagement.

When employees are allowed to be creative in their jobs, they’re able to produce more and potentially enhance sales or reduce costs. How is this done? Through appropriate training and incentives that boost creativity and encourage innovation. By reviewing specific areas in your company, you can create the programs necessary to cultivate a creative and innovative employee culture.

While it’s true that limiting creativity can hinder production, allowing for too much innovation and creativity without any guidance can also lead to minimal production.

Employees, while needing to express creativity and innovation, still require guidelines. Too much creativity can result in chaos and lack of direction that ultimately brings production to a grinding halt. Instead, maximize productivity by also incorporating rules or guidelines for creative individuals to follow such as:

  • Set up lines of reporting with the appropriate authority by making it clear which employees report to whom
  • Give employees control of their projects, but maintain firm project guidelines, goals, deadlines, and timelines
  • Give some power over decision making to employees to gain their input and use their suggestions where appropriate

A bonus tip

One of the ways organizations can improve employee productivity is by proving they care about employees, no matter where they are in the employment cycle – including when they leave the company. By providing adequate severance benefits, including career transition services for all employees, employers can do the right thing while saving themselves multiple negative consequences associated with workforce restructuring. Surviving employees are hyper-aware of how their employer treats exiting employees during layoffs. When employees see the organization giving their friends and colleagues the support they need to transition to a new job, they tend to stop worrying about the future and put their focus back on meeting business goals.

It’s not easy for any company to implement a perfect productivity plan. Given the current emphasis on employee engagement and the advent of the employee relationship economy, human resources leaders have a unique opportunity to create workplace environments and design programs that build highly effective teams armed with the right tools and resources to help them get the most out of their efforts.