Productivity at its basis, signifies the rate of output per unit of input. The phrase echoes an era where people were seen as elements in a production line, measured by the amount of time it would take them to produce a single item. But in today’s knowledge-based economy, this measure of productivity is no longer viable, making it increasingly difficult to evaluate people’s’ performance. There are a whole host of productivity challenges that we are now facing.
It’s challenging to measure knowledge based workers purely by the output of their productivity. Quality is often important, meaning that the sheer amount of time spent on a project, or the final work delivered may not be directly related to the person’s productivity level. In today’s workplace, if organizations focus solely on measuring productivity as the volume of output of people’s work, they are likely to find themselves with a stressed and disengaged workforce that feels misunderstood.
Yet it is still important to ensure that no matter the work being done, people are spending their time wisely, being efficient, and feel they are having an impact in the workplace. Here are some of the most common productivity challenges for today’s knowledge workers, and how you can address them:
1. Employee Disengagement
Disengaged employees are likely not the most productive employees since they don’t feel attached to the company. Research backs this up. According to a Gallup study, organizations with high rates of engagement experience 21 percent higher productivity. This is one of the biggest productivity challenges companies face and to overcome it leaders need to work to make their employees feel connected and motivated if they want to see a true boost in productivity levels.
A major part of engagement is successfully creating a company culture in which people develop a sense of belonging and feel supported. For this to work, the company’s values need to be clearly articulated and trickle down to each team, so everyone knows what they are working towards. A greater sense of purpose will drive people’s motivation on an individual level, within their work and daily tasks.
In addition people require timely, meaningful, recognition. By letting them know their work has had an impact on business results, people get a sense they are part of something important and form a mental and emotional attachment that becomes mutually beneficial for both them and their employer
2. Ineffective Performance Management
A Gallup study found that half of workers don’t know what’s expected of them at work. That’ a huge problem. When this happens it can lead to them setting the wrong priorities, feeling confused, and ultimately working on the wrong things, which in turn decreases productivity all around. However if managers assist their reports in setting goals for each work period, clear expectations can lead to 5-10 percent gains in productivity. This is probably one of the productivity challenges people don’t think about regularly.
This is why it’s essential for managers to guide their team members not just through goal-setting but also by regularly aligning with them and creating opportunities to check-in. Once a year isn’t enough for people to get a sense of how they’re doing and what they could improve on.
People should be able to know on a regular basis what their strengths are, as well as what they should be working towards throughout the year. Introducing quarterly or sprint based performance reviews tailored to their needs will give them the necessary knowledge for them to continuously develop and improve.
3. Tools, Training and Development
Even after setting clear expectations and goals, people will still need continuous guidance and coaching throughout the quarter or sprint. Not wanting to appear incompetent, some people may try to struggle through their difficulties on their own, either taking more time or making mistakes along the way, which could impact overall productivity. Instead, it’s important to develop a culture of continuous learning so people feel able to ask questions and empowered to learn on the job.
Managers’ role is to demonstrate that they’re always open to giving constructive feedback or advice to their team members, to help them develop in their roles. In fact, a study by Western Michigan University found that great feedback can increase performance by 5-20 percent. This is one of the easiest productivity challenges to address.
4. Excessive Meetings
Today’s workplace is full of distractions: open office spaces and app notifications create more distractions than ever. But an often overlooked culprit is meetings!
There are times when your whole day is back-to-back meetings, or worse, days when you have short 30 minute periods in between, which is not quite enough to get back into work, but also enough to feel the minutes of productivity slip away.
If your company culture is strong, ensure that it trickles all the way down to things like how you conduct meetings and the impact this can have on people in the workplace. If you represent a fun and dynamic culture, help people find efficient ways to run meetings that don’t sap their productivity and make the demoralized.
One way to cut down workplace distractions could be by instituting no meeting Thursdays, creating silent rooms in the office or setting up a signal for when someone needs absolute distraction free focus time.
5. Non-work Related Reasons for Productivity Challenges
One of the biggest productivity challenges can be personal. But during those times, pushing too hard to squeeze out work only leads to high stress and burn-out. Thinking back to your company culture and an engaged workforce, it’s important to ensure people fee supported during those times rather than squeezed.
Companies often forget that employees are people too. Yet as mentioned in the beginning, productivity isn’t a simple equation of inputting money and getting out work. Non-work related stress can have a major impact on people’s ability to focus and get things done. Rather than wasting resources, give people the time and support they need to recover and create dedicated company ambassadors in return.
One way to ensure people feel supported by their employer is by instituting regular 1-on-1s between managers and their direct reports. If they regularly check-in, not just on work but on how they are feeling about work, this creates an opportunity for people to speak up in difficult times.
In addition, you could encourage a coaching culture at all levels of the organization, so that people don’t need to solely rely on their managers and feel supported by any colleague.
At the core, you want to ensure that your people feel valued and are giving back to the business. Helping them feel more productive and having the right structure to support them, contributes to that.