Employee Productivity: Emphasizing the Human Side

Amy Marcum | Insperity

When economists talk about productivity gains in the workplace they are speaking primarily about the impact of automation and other applications of technology. In other words: How much more output is being achieved by the same number of, or fewer, employees.

This has been true for so long that sometimes we forget about the human aspects of productivity, to wit: How efficient, motivated and well managed are those employees?

For the benefit of both the bottom line and workforce morale, it is useful to remember that productivity is not exclusively driven by investment in technology. Investment in human resources – in terms of time, thought and budget – is also crucial.

To that end, therefore, what can employers do to encourage workplace productivity?

From a management perspective, the first step is to observe the environment and identify productivity culprits. Distractions, from an uncomfortable physical work environment to toxic employees, and technological challenges to an overabundance of seemingly pointless meetings, can slow anyone’s day. Once these distractions which disrupt work are identified, management can take steps to eradicate them.

If removing distractions is one part of the productivity equation, motivation is the other. An unmotivated employee is not likely to push himself or herself to become more productive. Of course, everyone’s motivators are different. Some employees are moved by the knowledge that they are learning something new,  setting and achieving a goal, or making an impact and are being respected and appreciated for their work. Others want to know that their efforts are going to advance their career paths or bring rewards or greater remuneration. Still, others are seeking relationship building or job security.

Distractions, from an uncomfortable physical work environment to toxic employees, and technological challenges to an overabundance of seemingly pointless meetings, can slow anyone’s day.

In all of these instances, managers should consistently communicate with employees to determine levels of engagement. If engagement and motivation are low, they should act quickly to change the environment. If a lackluster attitude pervades the entire workplace, it may be time to change the corporate culture.

Although it is ultimately management’s responsibility to ensure that employees are working effectively toward specific goals, employees should consider their efficiency and output. It is important to push through any obstacles that are impeding them from moving forward.

Below are some tips that can help employees increase their productivity:

•   Make a plan – A lack of direction inevitably leads to a waste of time. Employees should consider creating a to-do list the evening before work, so that they can hit the ground running when they get to the office. There is a feeling of accomplishment when you can check off a task and move to the next one.

•   It is also wise to set aside blocks of time for certain activities. For example, if the required task is writing a new business proposal, the individual should block the time expected to complete this task on the calendar. Knowing that a specific time has been reserved to do a task can help with time management.

•   Monitor activity – If the day is over, yet it seems nothing on the to-do list has been done, reflect on the activities that took up time. Track assignments using a daily log for a week or so. Knowing when you are most productive and when you are most distracted by external factors can help you better map out the day and plan projects around those busy times.

•   Take a break – If you have been working on one item for several hours and feel stuck, it may be a good idea to take a short break or switch activities. Switching from a complex to a simple task gives your mind a break. Sometimes removing yourself from the office environment helps, too. Taking a 15-minute walk or grabbing a cup of coffee can allow you to refocus on the assignment.

•   Reach out to others – Sometimes employees can get so immersed in a project they can only see it from one perspective. Colleagues can provide fresh insights and ideas, which can bring new color to an assignment and increase productivity.

•   Surround yourself with positive energy – Gossip and negative attitudes often create conflict and damage productivity. Those with positive energy are more inclined to move forward with an assignment because they can anticipate the finish line.

•   Reward yourself – After completing a challenging assignment, treat yourself. Recognize that you have succeeded at your task. This will motivate you to move forward with the next item on the list, even if it may also seem daunting.

In a perfect world every employee would be productive 100% of the time, but that’s not realistic. Everyone has good days and bad days, and there are countless reasons why a day that is going well can suddenly spiral out in an unproductive direction. However, if employers and employees are mindful of their productivity on a daily basis, and take proactive steps to keep on track of their duties, they will be more likely to achieve their goals.      

Amy Marcum is a senior human resource specialist with Insperity, a leading provider of human resource and business performance solutions. For more information, visit www.insperity.com.

Image credits: rawf8/Shutterstock.com and Andrii Yalanskyi/Shutterstock.com