Employee productivity has been all over the news lately and not for good reasons. In the United States, productivity fell by 2.7% in the first quarter of 2023. That drop wasn’t an isolated blip either, as it marks the fifth consecutive quarter that employee productivity has declined. And there have never been five straight quarters of year-over-year decline since productivity data was first gathered in 1948.
Naturally, many people are freaking out and predicting the decline of America and other doomsday scenarios. Others are more concerned with looking for somewhere to point a finger and lay blame. Some in the media are flooding the internet with articles that are more clickbait than informative.
But all of it misses the point that employee productivity is something that you should always be concerned about, regardless of the latest metrics. And since it involves humans, employee productivity isn’t a simple subject with easy solutions. Humans aren’t machines where you can push a different button and expect a different outcome. But there are steps you can take that will make an impact on making productivity trend in the right direction. In the following article, we will discuss:
- How there are very few simple solutions to increase productivity
- The strategies that actually do make a positive difference
- Why boosting productivity starts at the top, and the critical role effective leadership plays in its rise
AVOID THE EASY BLAME GAME
We have become a society that loves simple solutions to complex problems. And there are plenty of people who claim to have those easy fixes. Some CEOs and media members have targeted remote workers as the productivity killers solely responsible for its decline. Others place the blame on “lazy” millennials, a supposed lack of work ethic among Generation Z or some other problem with the generation that directly precedes them.
Both are simplistic explanations that avoid addressing any other extenuating factors. The post-covid shift to a remote or hybrid workplace hasn’t automatically killed productivity. We know plenty of companies (including ours) that make it work, but it does take extra effort. However, there are major benefits, like tapping into a nationwide pool of talent. And labeling one group of people as all the same is a lazy stereotype. We know (and employ) people from all generations that are competent and hard-working.
LOOK INWARD AND ENGAGE WITH YOUR EMPLOYEES
Often, these simple solutions exist because they help avoid the deeper and sometimes painful introspection necessary to positively impact productivity. The latest Gallup poll shows that many companies need to look inward and beyond simplistic explanations. According to it, over 44% of employees surveyed say they experience a lot of stress at work. And a record 69% of those surveyed are disengaged from their jobs. What would make their jobs better? Surprisingly, the top results weren’t better pay but more autonomy, clearer goals and recognition for accomplishments.
Yet, even with those shocking results, some CEOs claim the reasons for low employee productivity are a mystery. That “blindless” to how employees feel shows a disengagement of its own but from the top down. It is no mystery that engaged employees are happier and more productive. But engagement is a two-way street. To build it, you must be engaged enough with your employees to realize what affects their productivity.
HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE AND ENOUGH OF THEM
Your employees are the most valuable part of your company, full stop. That fact is hard to decipher from the recent trend of mass layoffs at numerous companies lately. Sure, it is possible that some of these companies hired thousands of too many people (although we are not entirely sure how that happens with attentive management). Laying off tons of people might create short-term gains or a bump in stock price, but it kills morale, leading to a drop in productivity. Redistributing the workload of laid-off workers among those left creates a workforce that is demoralized and overworked. And tweeting that everyone just needs to commit to “extremely hardcore” work isn’t an effective solution.
Beyond having enough employees, it is also critical to hire the right ones. Employees are an investment in your brand’s future. There is always the temptation to quickly fill a position, especially when shorthanded. But take the time to find and vet a person that is a great fit for your team instead of just a warm body. The reward will be a happy, value-adding and productive employee.
CREATE A TRANSPARENT WORKPLACE
The importance of transparency in the workplace is often overlooked and underappreciated. Transparency is defined as “the practice of sharing information among people on important matters externally and internally. It is the process of having active and effective communication channels across the business’s various stakeholders.” It seems simplistic, but fostering and maintaining transparency takes constant effort.
So why does transparency matter? It plays a significant role in creating an environment of accountability which increases productivity. And not being clear on company goals is one of the top reasons for employee dissatisfaction and disengagement, according to the previously mentioned Gallup survey. Clear communication is a significant component of transparency, and a central part of that is clearly defining company goals. Give our blog post a read explaining why transparency matters and its role in productivity.
MICROMANAGEMENT KILLS PRODUCTIVITY
Steve Jobs famously said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Yet, time and time again, companies of all sizes do just that. They hire the best and the brightest and then let those minds go to waste by micromanaging them. Your kids hate being told exactly what to do, so it shouldn’t be surprising that your employees don’t like it either. It isn’t shocking that a lack of autonomy was another primary reason for job disengagement in the Gallup poll.
Letting go for those that built their brands from the ground up can be hard. After all, your brand made it this far by doing things your way. But having quality employees is a significant investment of time and money. Micromanagement diminishes that investment by not empowering employees to use their experience and expertise. And it can cause an eventual loss of that investment as an overly-managed employee leaves the company for someplace that lets them use their talents more freely.
BE A LEADER AND MAKE NEW ONES
The importance of being an effective leader has been beaten into our brains by everything and everyone. There are seminars, books, podcasts, speakers, events and videos all focused on trying to make you a great leader. But most of them stop at you being a leader and don’t go any further. One important aspect that sometimes gets overlooked is the ability to recognize leadership in others and foster it. The best leaders aren’t just effective leaders themselves, but they are creating new leaders and enabling them to make a difference.
Developing new leaders is vital to productivity. Any brand with a singular leader at the top making every decision becomes a “top-down” organization. That management style negatively affects productivity because a leader will eventually be overwhelmed by the many decisions that must be made in any business. Beyond creating a slow-moving decision process, it also creates an environment where employees aren’t taking the initiative. Instead, they wait for the sole leader’s input to move forward, further sapping productivity. Creating other leaders besides yourself and empowering them to make decisions is vital for productivity and defining career paths for your employees.
DON’T BE A KARDASHIAN
Whether it is manufactured for reality television ratings or not, there is no denying that the Kardashians seem to thrive on unnecessary drama and avoiding blame. That might be debatably entertaining for an hour, but it is annoying and confusing in the long term. Yet some leaders, consciously or unconsciously, seem to adhere to a chaotic “Kardashian style” of management. How they deal with employees is inconsistent and usually depends on their mood. And they lack accountability by constantly shifting any blame to subordinates.
Our blog post on transparency explains the vital role accountability plays. It is not just about assigning blame but recognizing mistakes to avoid the same ones in the future. As a leader, accountability starts with you. And nobody likes trying to decipher what kind of mood their boss is in or being treated differently than other employees. Being consistent with your employees and instilling accountability will lead to happier and more productive employees. And make sure to our blog post, “Eight Management and Leadership Lessons from 8,000 Miles of Hard Racing,” for even more management and leadership insights.
INSPIRE ACHIEVEMENTS AND RECOGNIZE THEM
People are seeking more purpose in their lives than ever, including work. Feeling that what they do matters to a company is a surefire way to increase productivity and engagement. Most employees also want to feel that they are part of something larger. It is essential to convey that each person plays an important role regardless of their job title. And explaining that what they are doing makes a difference beyond just increasing company profits is vital too. Someone finding a customer the right parts might feel like a cog in the machine. But showing how they helped that customer build their dream car will give them a stronger sense of purpose.
Acknowledging someone’s achievement is just as important as inspiring them. According to that same Gallup poll, a lack of recognition is among the top three reasons for job dissatisfaction. Recognizing when someone does a great job isn’t about inflating an employee’s ego. Rather, it shows that you value them as a worker. And you see them as individuals making a difference rather than anonymous worker bees. It significantly improves productivity and inspires them to do even more.
WE ARE HERE TO HELP
All of the above takes significant time, and you are likely extremely busy building a brand. But ignoring productivity isn’t an option, as doing so often causes a decline. At Kahn Media, we can free up your time and help you focus on productivity. With in-house specialists in public relations, event management, influencer relations, social media, digital marketing, content creation and strategic development, we can function as a complete turn-key marketing department for your company. And we can often offer our full suite of services at a price lower than hiring your own internal team. Contact us to see how we can help your brand achieve its goals and increase its revenue.