How to Improve Productivity and Employee Engagement
Why is your organization experiencing a slowdown in productivity and engagement? Is it seasonal, a result of recent changes in the organization, or simply a byproduct of boredom and lack of growth opportunities for employees? Not all decreases in productivity can be linked to a specific event. In fact, both change and lack of it can be causes for slowdowns in workforce productivity. However, when your organization is planning a workforce restructuring or other event that will impact a large number of employees, it’s wise to put in place initiatives to address the potential losses in productivity and engagement as a result of those changes.
Lost productivity and its many causes
Organizations and HR leaders can anticipate productivity issues during times of planned workforce changes such as mergers and acquisitions, new policies and systems, changes in company strategy or market position, and new leadership. Although these changes can be seen as positive for the organization, they cause stress and uncertainty for less resilient workers. In a time of significant change within a company, the lack of a sound change management plan can lead to future losses in productivity. Of course, any plan must be executed properly to avoid an impact on productivity.
On the other hand, organizations that hold on to processes and practices that reflect the way things have always been done may see a drop in productivity as employees simply show up at work every day to go through their paces. When there is no encouragement or room for innovation or exploration of ways to streamline processes or improve systems, employees will spend their time simply going through the motions of completing their assigned tasks. Keeping the status quo and quickly dismissing new ways of doing things may simplify staff management at the outset, but ultimately, these practices lead to a natural dip in productivity.
Inequalities or perceived inequalities can also have a negative influence on productivity. When a company relies too heavily on on-the-job-training, it’s not uncommon for a wide variation in employee performance to develop, leading to equally wide variations in productivity. Similarly, a lack of relevant operational metrics and performance measures very often leads to a wide variation in employee performance and has the added effect of causing a deterioration of performance over time. The right metrics will put the right focus on productivity.
Newer, smaller companies sometimes lapse into a ready-fire-aim mentality. This type of behavior is as times explained away as “we have a timeline to hit… we don’t have time to really think this through... we can fix any issues later.” The resulting confusion, lack of direction, and possibly failure of the initiative can create chaos, stress, and less productivity among team members who feel that their efforts may be wasted.
Outmoded practices still in place today
There are a variety of reasons why organizations still engage in behaviors that have proven to reduce productivity. Most of these reasons center around time, habit, and the nature of change. While change is a natural part of the ebbs and flows of business and something that people experience almost daily, each individual has a different threshold for change and how we experience it depends greatly on our personal resilience to change. While some people will respond to change easily, for others it can negatively impact not only their productivity, but other things like engagement and loyalty.
Fast-paced work environments, rapidly changing markets, and socio-economic shifts have all converged to make people feel like there isn’t enough time to plan. Companies tend to reward people who “put out the fires.” If organizations hope to improve productivity, the focus should be not on putting out the fires, but looking for solutions that avoid fires from being started in the first place.
On the other hand, when companies and the people within them fall into comfortable patterns, inertia can cause lack of a sense of urgency. Action and productivity tend to happen when there’s a clear problem to be solved or a defined goal that needs to be met.
The impact of change on productivity
In times of change, and even when it’s “business as usual”, all employees of an organization need a clear understanding of how to best perform the expectations of their roles. If a change has just occurred in their organization, their normal patterns and routines will possibly be disrupted. Even if there’s been no change in their specific area, the uncertainty about a future change can still cause losses in productivity or impact the quality of their work.
Once change does occur, or change is eminent, be prepared for a range of reactions. Each individual and even each team will have a different level of resiliency. While some individuals and groups within an organization are able to recover quickly, others may be heavily impacted. The same event may seem critical to one person while not bothering another. It all comes down to resilience. Fortunately, resilience can be taught, improved, and built.
When there is no change, the practices and processes that are in place at an organization can become less efficient over time. When organizations and managers take their eyes off of efficiency and productivity, they become larger issues. Businesses in stagnation may find that rote ‘robotic-like’ task performance will dominate at the expense of improving efficiency and productivity.
Improving productivity and engagement
Leading-edge companies embed a continuous improvement mindset in their culture --- they are relentless about finding opportunities to improve efficiency and productivity and eliminate waste and rework. Employees are encouraged to routinely evaluate all processes and practices where they have a role.
In these organizations, suggesting improvements is not seen as making waves but instead as part of everyone’s job. Improvement-related behavior is encouraged, recognized and rewarded. All projects of significance are analyzed after completion; the analysis includes a timely, in-depth post-mortem for learning purposes.
When change is necessary, clear, timely and understandable change management plans should be developed and then effectively implemented. Among several necessary ingredients, such plans should contain meaningful communication loops with employees. Two-way communication is a must.
To avoid losses in productivity due to change, organizations should focus on improving and supporting resilience within their workforce. Training and development can help to build resilience as well as good modeling by leadership. Creating a supportive culture of resilience will go a long way to reducing the negative impacts change can have on productivity.
The role of the employee in increased productivity
In some cases, organizations and HR departments can implement a variety of initiatives to improve employee engagement and productivity and still have losses of productivity at individual or team levels. In these instances, it’s important to address the issues directly with the individuals or teams experiencing slowdowns.
You may find that a particular team has undergone an adverse event or seen a sudden shift in team members or be under new management. These changes, while not company-wide, are still reasons to provide resiliency training and opportunities for open communication.
When you begin to understand the causes for the lost productivity, you can address them at the team or individual level. During the discovery period, you may find that there are individual employee behaviors that need correction.
Some common causes for individual employee productivity losses include:
- Inefficient use of instant messaging and emails (example: too much)
- Reaction to distractions or interruptions
- Ineffective multi-tasking
- Conducting excessive personal business or communication on company time
- Excessive personal web searching
- Excessive breaks
Whether change is in the offing, or your company simply lacks the incentives for employees to give their all, losses in productivity and engagement could adversely affect your ability to attract, recruit, and retain valuable talent -- not to mention its effect on future profitability and market competitiveness. Having plans in place to teach resiliency and keep communications open during times of change and during the normal course of business will ensure that your organization will be less likely to feel the adverse effects of lost productivity and declining employee engagement.