9 Unusual Ideas to Increase Employee Productivity

by Thiago Leite - August 3, 2018

Employee productivity can be a tricky topic. Managers today understand that people’s work output is affected by many factors beyond earning a good salary in exchange for time. In fact, productivity is higher among engaged employees. Therefore you could say that it makes no sense to address productivity without thinking of employee engagement and vice-versa. The two are intertwined.

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It’s no surprise then that employee engagement is the talk of town in HR departments these days. Indeed, managers agree that improving employee engagement is a number one priority in today’s work environment. Certainly because there is a perceived impact on productivity and therefore the company’s bottomline.

However, acknowledging this relationship doesn’t tell us much. Employee engagement surveys are then implemented and when the scores come in and the issues are highlighted, managers have to figure out how to get (or keep) an upward trend.

How then? Sometimes all you need is a fun idea to help get the ball rolling, or sometimes you need drastic structural changes. In both cases, we present below some of the best ideas we’ve found to increase employee productivity and engagement.

1. Give and take feedback

For your employees to succeed, you need to know what’s holding them back. Talk with your employees and ask what you can do better.

Likewise, by giving frequent feedback, you will provide guidance and valuable information. If improvement needs to be made in employee performance, the sooner they find out about it the sooner they can correct the problem.

However, if the wrong kind of feedback is given, even further problems can emerge. Make sure to give constructive comments, establishing a clear and specific plan on how to improve performance or change behavior.

In addition to telling employees where to improve, be sure to award your team when they do well. Recognition is crucial to employee engagement and therefore, if a talent feels underappreciated or undervalued as a person, their engagement and productivity will eventually decrease. When employees are recognized – even for little things – they are more willing to go that extra mile.

According to Gallup, you should praise someone at least once a week. However, don’t just simply praise for the sake of it; learn how to genuinely recognize others’ qualities. Make peer-to-peer recognition as frequent as possible. It will give employees an idea of what constitutes great work. There is always room for praise at work.

Implementing fair and realistic performance appraisal systems that help distinguish outstanding talents from others is important. Praising someone only superficially might come off as meaningless and can have inflationary effects. So it should be encouraged to always give meaningful and well thought-out feedback.

Of course, for that to happen you have to first open a communication channel between you and your team members – and later in this post we show you some ideas on how to do that.

Without uncovering the underlying issues, any employee engagement idea that you had is just guess work. What you think is helping, may actually be hurting. Through honest communication, you can see where your team is struggling, where you are struggling, and what is necessary to do to improve.

(Note: If you’re interested in how to implement a better feedback culture, there’s a whole blog post we dedicated to this topic).

2. Be a mentor to your employees, but work on a level playing field

Another way to see the productivity of your team increase is by sharing your experiences and expertise with them. Mentoring others can be hugely beneficial if done correctly. Not only can they learn, but using this system ensures that everyone is up to speed, and no one is lagging behind.

If one of your employees needs help with anything, give them help. Show them how the task should be done, or help them think of a solution for the problem they are having. As anyone’s manager, you need to ensure that everyone is doing their job correctly. Sometimes, that requires some extra instruction and guidance.

But be careful. If your mentoring technique comes off as condescending, then your assistance may actually be counterproductive. A learning session could easily turn from helping someone who’s struggling with their job into what seems like an impromptu performance review.

With the right attitude, mentoring your employees can make your employees not only more productive, but also more engaged.

3. Organize a team-building trip

Team-building activities offer a nice opportunity to break from the routine. It can also be a cost-effective alternative compared to, say, raising wages in an attempt to get people more involved with their work. The most impactful one tends to be a trip outside somewhere.

By breaking away from the everyday office, you allow yourself and your team to shift perspectives for a moment. In turn, this shift should be directed towards a common goal to be accomplished during the break. For example, if what’s blocking your team from becoming more engaged is the lack of a common vision, then plan it so that by the end of the trip you will come out with one. This means despite not being in the office, a team-building trip is still work. Therefore it demands careful planning to reach a proper balance between fun and productivity.

There are entire companies created for the purpose of facilitating these gatherings. So you can even outsource that part of the work and concentrate solely on elaborating the goal you want to achieve together with the team. Money well-invested.

On a side note, sometimes the team is already engaged and all you want is to give them a little nudge so you can develop your interactions further. In that case, regular team events, like a night out or a barbecue on a hot summer friday, can help more than one would think.

By giving people a chance to bond outside of the work spectrum, you can bridge communication gaps or cultural differences that may be impacting the productivity.

4. Ensure that your employees have all the right tools for the job

Your employees need the right tools to succeed. This point may seem obvious, but in a world where technology changes so fast and complexity increases exponentially it’s important to come back to this topic from time to time.

If you can’t do it yourself, perhaps because your team is composed of very specialized roles (for example), then one exercise here would be to ask your team for help. Give them some time to research and present you new technologies and developments in their field which they believe could impact their productivity.

This can pay off in multiple ways. For one, highly innovative individuals like to work with the latest tech, for professional and personal reasons. Also, these improvements should serve the purpose of increasing efficiency and/or quality of the deliveries, byproducts of increased productivity.

5. Increase your company’s well-being

dilbert strip health advice

If your employees are stressed or unhealthy, they won’t be as productive as they could be otherwise. Make sure your employees are safe and healthy, both physically and mentally.

Mental Health

Beyond accident prevention, which hopefully is already covered, there’s also another kind of safety which should be discussed. This type of safety deals with emotional harm that can happen in the office either intentionally through workplace bullies, or unintentionally through someone not knowing that they are doing harm. Finding out what could be making your employees feel unsafe is often closely tied to feedback.

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase is well aware of the importance of safety in the workplace. In an interview at Stanford University, he expressed his frustration of not being able to act in certain situations;

“We have 5,000 branches and I know in one of those branches that guy or woman can be a bully and get away with it, because we can’t see it and no matter what we say, the people in that branch, they need their job, and they put up with it.” In massive corporations, not everyone will feel safe, and that’s a big concern.

Likewise, another source of mental health problems is related to pressure and stress at the workplace.

A little bit of stress at work can be beneficial, but according to Psychology Today, too much stress causes harm. OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration) reported that stress is a hazard of the workplace and that a significant portion of annual healthcare bills are related to stress. Forbes estimates the cost of stress to be about $190 billion a year in annual healthcare bills.

65% of adults say that work is the source of their significant stress, and that’s across all industries.

Additionally, workplace stress has been shown to make employees significantly less productive. Another article by Forbes claims that over half of disengaged employees are significantly stressed at work, compared to 15% of engaged employees. Thus, reducing workplace stress is a critical factor in employee engagement.

Instead of letting stress run amok, focus on turning stress into success. Encourage the team to avoid checking emails and work during their off time, go to the gym (exercise is a great stress reliever studies have shown), and get good sleep every night.

Physical Health

Encouraging your employees to be healthy can directly translate into an increase in productivity. Wellness is important for any job, but is often forgotten in favor of working longer, less productive hours or sitting in front of the TV everyday after work. Neglecting healthy eating habits, exercise, and sleep is not good for health or productivity.

On the bright side, there are many easy ways to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Company funded gym memberships, fruit baskets, and encouraging doing work only in the office are all tangible things you can do to help your employees be healthy.

On top of that, you can encourage employee health by mentoring your employees on the importance of good sleeping habits, not skipping meals, staying hydrated and taking regular breaks while in the office. Extending these suggestions into a company-wide policy is a great way to encourage a more healthy lifestyle.

Well-being is usually forgotten as a major factor in employee engagement, but it’s just as important as any other item on this list. Everyone needs time to recharge. If you can offer perks associated with it, it shows employees that you care about their physical and mental wellness. If implemented well, you will have happier, healthier, and more productive employees.

6. Give your employees the desk set up they’ve always wanted

Everyone works best in different environments. Some like standing desks, some like 2 monitors, and some really like that one apple mouse that looks like a soap bar. Within reason, whatever the case is, your employees should get the set up that they think would help them the most.

According to an American Time Use Survey, adults spend up to 40% of their time at work, a lot of which is behind a desk for many of us. One study by The Herman Miller Group found that the design of one’s workplace had “a small but consistent and real influence” on workers’ performance. This “small but real influence” increases productivity as much as 16% and job satisfaction by 9%, which seems pretty significant to us. So make sure your employees have the right desk setup!

7. Help employees get to know each other

Oftentimes people have limited knowledge of who their peers are besides the professional sphere. For your team to work the most efficiently, they must have open and honest communication, just as two good friends would talk.

Friendships can’t be forced, and we’re not telling people to treat a meeting with their colleagues as they would a night out with their friends.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, describes how the company W. L. Gore and Associates helps inspire employee relationships. As W. L. Gore and Associates grew and grew, management would split the offices up so that there were only 150 people in the building. Why? Because keeping the office size small helped the employees all make friends and care for one another.

In psychology, this rule of 150 is known as Dunbar’s Number. British anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggested that 150 was the maximum number of stable social relationships one could reasonably have. Thus, once an office reached 150 people, W. L. Gore and Associates would cap the number of employees there to foster good worker relationships.

Of course, not every office will have the privilege to split in two when the workplace gets a little too crowded. Luckily, there are other easy ways to foster healthy employee relationships.

As mentioned before on this post, taking your co-workers out for an evening out is perhaps one of the easiest ways to get your employees talking to one another. Office games are also great in order to inspire friendships.

Be sure to also put your own best foot forward. If you are friendly, considerate, and honest to your own team, then they’ll be more inclined to follow your lead.

Collaboration is one of the most important aspects of business. It helps idea generation, productivity, positivity and, of course, engagement. Many organizations could easily have a much better work culture if only everyone tried to make the best of it.

It may seem like a lofty goal, but it doesn’t have to be at all.

8. Let employees set their own timetable

The timesheet is an industrial age artifact. For professionals in the creative or high-tech sectors, sticking to the 9-5 makes little sense. Giving employees ownership over when they have to come into the office, when or how often they should take holidays, or even if they have to work from an office at all, can be a very empowering gesture.

Own schedule

Some people are early birds, others are night owls. Each employee knows best when they are most productive, so let them decide!

If done right, a flexible schedule will help everyone be as productive as possible while working, which could give the company a real advantage.

However, this policy should be applied within reason. Meetings must still be attended on time, and deadlines must still be met. Which leads us to our next point.

Unlimited holidays

Your employee engagement levels can decrease if employees feel trapped in a cycle, so let employees break the cycle when they feel like they need to. Sometimes, just a morning or day off can do wonders for someone’s productivity. Most people know what’s the best time for them to be away from work.

Before implementing this, make sure your workplace has a strong culture of trust in place. There’s always a fear of employees abusing the system and the whole policy backfiring, but when there’s trust and engagement in place, the pros outweigh the risks. Besides, you shouldn’t discourage the majority who could benefit from the idea because of a few bad apples.

In fact, in many cases the opposite becomes the reality: employees when faced with such freedom are overcome by guilt and end up taking less holidays than they were normally entitled to. This is not good either!

To avoid these and other pitfalls, while promoting the positives of an unlimited vacation policy, the CEO of Kronos management software group took several measures. The results came in the form of reduced turnover, increased happiness (and engagement) and two consecutive best fiscal years since the policy was implemented in 2016.

Work from anywhere

Let people work where they want to. Sometimes, a good office chair and desk that’s at the right height makes people most productive in the office. Other times, people are most productive working from home, or in a coffee shop.

Letting employees work from home will save you money just from space alone. According to the Harvard Business Review, employees who work from home save the company an average of $2,500 per employee per year. Why? Because of the rent you don’t have to pay, the furniture you don’t have to buy, and the utilities costs you save.

Not every employee will want to work from home, and having an office can still be necessary for many reasons. However, when possible let the employees decide for themselves! They know their styles better than you do, and there are many benefits for letting employees work from where they want to. Matt Mullenweg runs a billion dollar company through a largely remote workforce while he himself works remotely as well.

However, if you do implement this solution, it needs to be tested. Make sure your employees are working at home for the right reasons. Sometimes they may be parents who want to spend more time around while their children are growing up. Sometimes they just want a place where they can work without being distracted by random noises or uncontrolled interruptions. Whatever the case may be, you should make sure the employees working from home take their responsibilities as seriously as if they were in the office.

Allowing your employees to set their own routines can significantly boost productivity. Good employees know better where, when, and how they work best, so encourage that kind of ownership.

9. Encourage personal growth

People don’t want to feel stuck in life, and that goes for both their personal life and professional career. Employees who feel stuck at work often aren’t as productive as you would probably like them to be.

Just how important is personal growth to today’s employees? Well, a poll by Gallup found that 87% of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as an important factor in a job. The study also found out that “opportunities to learn and grow” is one of the top three factors that differentiate millennial from non-millennial worker needs.

Let your staff grow throughout their career. Give your employees the skills they need to succeed. That way, their loyalty to the company will increase, and they’ll feel more engaged at work.

How to foster personal growth

It should start with the Onboarding process.

Training and shadowing as soon as a newcomer is onboarded or someone changes teams can also be very useful. It is a way to make sure they know and understand the role to which they’re assigned as well as the team’s culture. Without proper training, your employees are forced to catch up on their own and seek out the help from others. Which brings us to the next point.

Asking for help should never be frowned upon in the workplace. Rather, it should be encouraged. If, however, an employee is asking basic questions that were covered during training, it wastes the time of all of those involved. Insufficient training also fosters micromanagement, which, in turn, creates an uncomfortable and tense work environment. This ultimately harms employee engagement and productivity.

Other methods to stimulate growth are free access to online classes, bringing in external speakers, hosting internal seminars or brown bag talks (informal meetings during lunchtime) where employees can learn from each other and develop themselves.

Not only will your employees feel like they are growing personally, but they’ll become better at their jobs. Your employees will constantly be learning new skills, and will learn about the new best technology, how to do certain tasks more efficiently, and how to problem-solve better.

Inspiring personal growth is one of the most powerful tools to boost engagement productivity.

Do these employee productivity ideas actually work?

You may be asking yourself… Do these strategies actually work? Are they economical? How important is it to spend time out of my busy day to actually implement some of them?

So you take your team on a team trip as suggested in number 4. Nothing of value turns up, at least not in the short run. You may think that the whole thing was a waste of time or a waste of money. Behind the scenes, however, chances are the event was hugely beneficial. You and your team got to know yourselves better, so you will probably communicate better at work. This knowledge also enables you to more accurately respond to the needs of your team and become a better manager as a result. Stretching a little further, if the purpose of the trip was successfully addressed, you may have impacted someone’s decision on whether or not to stay on the job.

The benefits may not be visible to the naked eye, but real positive changes may be at work behind the scenes, resulting in increased productivity. Of course, the truth is that things like a more productive accounting team, an R&D team that loves what it does, a management team who cares deeply about their employees all make real differences in how the business performs. So ultimately developing engagement will net you more productivity.

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