From a certain perspective, employee productivity is a problem that affects businesses across nearly every industry. According to one study, an incredible 88% of employees surveyed said they just don’t have any passion for their work.
This level of disengagement doesn’t just lead to a dip in employee productivity–it costs the US economy roughly $500 billion per year in terms of both a lower quantity and lower quality of completed work.
In many ways, low employee productivity or other types of productivity issues in general are a symptom of a much larger problem within a business. If you were to trace that symptom backward to the root cause, you might find things like employee engagement and even employee retention problems along the way.
From another perspective, employee productivity is actually an opportunity just waiting to be taken advantage of. Taking steps to improve employee productivity doesn’t just positively affect your bottom line. It helps you build a stronger, longer-lasting and more forward-thinking organization from the inside out.
This can give you an opportunity to increase not only revenue, but also the quality of the work being done. You will also increase important factors like employee engagement at the exact same time.
If you really want to learn how to improve employee productivity, there are a few key things you’ll need to keep in mind:
How to Measure Employee Productivity
Employee productivity can be measured by quality as well as the quantity level of work, but only if the two sides coexist. Before you improve and sustain employee productivity, it’s important to collect as much actionable information as possible about your situation.
Remember that while the quantity of work that your employees are doing is important, it’s only one small part of a much larger whole. If the quality of work isn’t there, all of the productivity in the world won’t help you attract new clients or continue to grow and evolve.
This makes measuring employee productivity one of the keys for how to improve it in the long run.
This may require you to change the way you think about productivity in the first place. Instead of judging employees based on how many hours or days they spend in the office, take a macro look at the work they actually complete. Start measuring your employees in tasks and not time by breaking productivity down by assignment.
Which is better: a task that takes one day to complete yielding poor results or the same task taking three days, but you couldn’t be happier with the end product? The answer should be resoundingly clear.
How Communication Affects Employee Productivity
One of the major factors that affects employee productivity is also one of the least visible: communication. How much or how little you communicate with your employees absolutely plays a role in how they’re able to do their jobs from a few different angles.
In the most general sense, if you want someone to hit X, Y and Z employee productivity benchmarks, they have to actually know this is what you expect of them. This goes beyond someone knowing what their job entails–it has more to do with how well someone understands the larger role they play within an organization.
Communication helps with everything from allowing someone to understand why what they’re doing today is important to you, as well as how what they’re doing affects the living, breathing whole that is your business in the first place.
Without that open and honest environment of communication, employees tend to naturally exist in a vacuum–they can’t help it because they lack one of the most mission-critical tools they need to generate the results you expect from them.
However, it’s also important to look at things from a larger perspective. Take the idea of keeping an employee informed about the direction of your company, for example.
By making an effort to always communicate how your business currently stands, where you want to be going and how you plan on getting there, employees begin to get a better understanding of why they’re an integral part of the business as a whole. They can see the affects of their hard work in real-time, essentially, allowing them to take more pride in their contribution and motivating them to do more as a result.
Communication in this regard doesn’t necessarily have to take the form of a company newsletter. Instituting a rewards program for productivity benchmarks can communicate both to the recipient that you value their contribution and to other employees that this is type of employee productivity you value. You get to increase engagement and employee productivity, effectively at the exact same time.
Now consider communication from the more practical standpoint of keeping your employees informed on industry-related news and other essential topics. For the sake of argument, say there’s been some breaking development in your industry and a new best practice has come to light in terms of how people actually do their job in other businesses.
It stands to reason that sharing this information with your employees will help them use it as a tool for to improve employee productivity.
Employee Productivity & Feedback: Two Halves of the Same Whole
Along the same lines as communication, employee feedback is also one of the most powerful tools you have in terms of increasing employee productivity. It’s just not necessarily in the way that you might think.
Obviously, if you need an employee to complete X, Y and Z tasks by Friday and they only get X and Y finished, they need to know that it’s unacceptable. But “employee feedback” doesn’t mean “the only time you give an employee an update on how they’re doing is when they do something wrong.
The key is to be helpful on a regular basis or feedback will absolutely become a “bad thing” in the eyes of your employees. That will only harm your productivity and engagement efforts, not help them.
You need to be focused on providing regular feedback that encourages an employee moving forward, not discourages them. Whether you’re doubling down on a job well done or feel like some type of course correction is needed, don’t turn it into a negative situation.
Frame it as a helpful opportunity to identify positive change. This will absolutely go a long way in terms of helping you accomplish your larger organization and management goals.
Employee Productivity & Ongoing Education
Another one of the most important steps you can take as you strive to increase employee productivity involves investing in adequate training for all positions. This includes the hourly worker you just brought into the fold, the upper management executive who has been there for a decade and absolutely everyone in between.
Again, think about things from the perspective of how a step affects not the quantity of the work being done, but the quality. When someone is at the early, formative stages of their career, they need all the ongoing training that they can get.
Their goal isn’t necessarily just to do their job better, but to become a more valuable, well-rounded employee. Focusing on making sure that they have the educational tools necessary to do that should therefore become one of your highest priorities.
However, it goes deeper than that. If you invest in the training necessary to make sure someone knows how to do their job, it affects the way they perform at a very basic level.
They’re more comfortable in their position. They understand what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and why it’s so essential. Employees can take pride in their work because of this new level of confidence, which in turn increases their engagement with the job and quality of work.
Investing in continuing education for all of your employees doesn’t just make them better at certain tasks–it makes them better employees. This puts them in a position where they’re better equipped to handle all challenges, even unexpected ones, with a clear and level head.
In the short-term, it helps improve employee productivity. In the long term, it puts you in the best possible position to actually sustain it in the future.
In the End: It’s All About Outcomes
The techniques that you will use for how to improve employee productivity will likely vary depending on the situation you’re talking about. There really is no “one size fits all” approach to this goal–the industry you operate in, your business’ own long-term goals and even each individual employee will all play a role in the strategy you outline for yourself.
However, the one factor that doesn’t change is the idea that outcomes are the only important and measurable thing. It isn’t about how much face time you get with an employee. It’s not about the volume of work that they’re able to get done. It isn’t about the hours, days or months spent behind a computer. It’s about what is getting done.
The key to actually improving and sustaining employee productivity rests in the idea that you have to be able to see your employees making progress on the work they have in front of them. If you can get to that point, so much of the “hard work” has already been done for you.
Kevin King is the Marketing Lead for Bambu by Sprout Social and film lover turned SEO geek. When he isn’t poring over massive Excel files, he can be found enjoying live music, superhero movies and select craft beers.
How to Actually Improve & Sustain Employee Productivity
Written by Kevin King on January 11, 2017