Increase Productivity Without the Fight


Productivity and motivation are two of my favorite topics. Why? Well, both productivity and motivation have the ability to make or break any business venture. In fact, if productivity and motivation are not made priorities in business, the business will fail, which means loss of time and income.

Loss of productivity is one of the biggest income holes that businesses face. If we consider all the businesses in the United States, loss of productivity can cost upwards of a billion dollars. Of course that is taking all business together, including the ones that employ hundreds of people.

To put this in perspective, a study conducted by Harvard professors determined that every employee loses 11.3 days of productivity per year, which is 90.4 hours per year. That might not seem like very much, but let’s say that employee earns $10/hour. That equates to $904 per year in work that the employer is not getting. If the business employs 10 people, that is over $9000 dollars per year the business is wasting.

Wow, that’s a lot, especially for a small business. Loss of productivity costs more than just wages, though. It also costs the business potential clients, current clients, and even sales. So, basically what happens when an employee is unproductive is that the business loses more than just wages paid. In fact, it could completely ruin the business.

Since making a good income is one of the major reasons for starting a business, shouldn’t productivity and motivation be kept at the forefront of all business dealings?

If you said yes, that’s great! And because my goal is to help businesses improve profit through improving productivity, I am going to discuss several different ways you can do this without cracking a whip and trying to force productivity.

Forcing productivity doesn’t work

It doesn’t matter what you do, or how you do it, you cannot force someone to be productive. During the late 1800s and early 1900s manufacturing businesses were interested in learning how to increase productivity, without having to increase wages. This resulted in many studies being conducted concerning how to increase productivity, specifically the time and motion studies that treated employees much like robots.

Everything the employee did was repetitive and was timed. It’s true this increased efficiency and productivity for a while, but it also depressed the employees, and after a while their productivity began to decrease.

What was missing here? The basic human component. Humans are not robots and they cannot be treated as such. It might work for a while, but then it begins to wear on the person and their productivity decreases, which begins to cut into business efficiency and profit.

Don’t Stress Out Employees

Being treated as though you are a robot without any emotions or needs apparently does not work in the long term to increase productivity. In fact, doing this will probably increase the stress level of employees, which will ultimately reduce productivity. Research has indicated that there is a link between stress and productivity, such that the more stressed out someone is, the less productive they are.

There is a reason for this. The more stress we experience, the more our body reacts, which can ultimately lead to a shutdown, making it impossible for anyone to complete tasks assigned to them.

I know, some work is stressful, but that doesn’t mean that employers should add to that stress.

So, what can you do?

  • Be supportive – understand the work is stressful and be there to offer help
  • Allow training – training can help any employee feel confident enough to get the job done, no matter how stressful
  • Allow innovation – let employees think for themselves. An employer might want an employee to do something a specific way, but what if they can do it a different way, faster?
  • Allow employees to thrive – this goes along with training, innovation, and support. The more an employer engages in these activities, the more likely employees will thrive.

Quality is so Important

Quality of work is important, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about workplace quality.

Workplace quality affects everyone. It affects employees and employers, and it affects clients.

So, what exactly is workplace quality?

It basically encompasses the culture of the business: how employees are treated, options available to them, and how everything is defined within the business. The interesting thing is that this, which seems so simple, impacts how employees behave while at work. This can be the difference between being productive and being unproductive.

What can a business do to make sure that its culture is good for employees?

  • Be supportive – Yes, exactly. I discussed this in the previous section of how to not stress out employees. Employees need to be in a supportive environment. This means to help them if they need it. Give them necessary resources to help them complete their tasks.
  • Training, mentoring, or coaching – While this does help with competence, it also helps employees feel valued. If a business provides training, this tells the employee that they matter, their success matters, and them growing as an individual matters.
  • Give opportunities – Allow employees to grow and advance. This includes training, but it also includes opportunities to move up in jobs, have new responsibilities added to current jobs, and potential to earn incentives based on work completed.
  • Define roles and procedures – This might seem basic, but a lot of businesses really don’t do this. Often there is role confusion. Some employees are not sure what their role is and it is the businesses responsibility to define that. The same thing is true of procedures and processes. Employees have to know what they are doing and how to do it. Failing to give them this information sets them up for failure.

Create a Place of Belonging

Maybe it’s just me, but I think everyone wants a place where they feel they belong. The workplace is no different. If an employee feels as though they don’t fit in, how productive do you think they will be? Not very.

Research has also determined that feeling a sense of belonging in the workplace helps with productivity. This, actually, is very simple. When a person feels as though they belong, they take pride in what they are doing. They want to succeed. They want to produce. They want to be the best employee possible.

The difficulty is figuring out how to help employees feel as though they belong.

This, actually, could be related to hiring the wrong people. In fact, when conducting interviews, it’s important to have other employees there as well, because they know more about how working with the new employee will be. They understand the quirks of all those already employed.

I really don’t want to work with people who aren’t efficient. I want to do my work and finish it before the end of the day. Other people aren’t like that, though. So, if I am working directly with someone who puts off work until the next day, this bothers me. Other people might be different, though. My desire to be efficient and finish everything could bother my coworkers. This is something that has to be understood before placing people in new positions.

So where does a business go from here?

All businesses should look at how their employees are being treated. It isn’t a slight against the business if things aren’t looking that great, but it will be if the business doesn’t want to change.

This article contained a lot of ways to help move an unproductive business towards a productive business. All it takes is acknowledging this needs to happen. So, why not?


About Author

Margaret Murrow

Margaret obtained her M.S. in Organizational Psychology and Nonprofit Management in 2014 after spending a decade focused on homeschooling her four children. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Health Psychology and has earned a certification in stress management coaching. When she is not studying, she spends time working as a freelance writer and a certified stress management and business coach for employers around the world.