5 biggest productivity challenges (and how to overcome them)

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 no longer holds true, making it increasingly difficult to evaluate workers’ performance.

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. 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.

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CultureBut it’s important for employers to ensure 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 inhibitors of productivity for today’s knowledge workers, and how you can address them.

1. Employee disengagement. If people are disengaged, it is most likely they are not at their most productive since they don’t feel attached to the company. Yet according to a Gallup study, organizations with high rates of engagement experience 21% higher productivity. When people feel strongly connected to a company, they are more motivated and therefore more naturally inclined to be productive, contributing to their organisation’s success.

A major part of engagement is successfully creating a company culture where employees develop a sense of belonging and feel supported. For this to work, a company’s values need to be clearly articulated and trickle down to each team, so everyone knows what they’re working toward. 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 workers 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. 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. However, if managers assist their reports in setting goals for each work period, clear expectations can lead to 5-10% gains in productivity.

This is why it’s essential for managers to guide 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, employees will still need continuous guidance and coaching throughout the quarter or sprint. Not wanting to appear incompetent, some workers 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 empowered to ask questions and learn on the job.

A manager’s 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%.

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 enough to feel the minutes of productivity slip away.

If your company culture is strong, ensure that it trickles all the way down to strategies 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.

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. Sometimes the reason for low productivity 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. Non-work related stress can have a major impact on people’s ability to focus. Rather than wasting resources, give employees the time and support needed 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, encourage a coaching culture at all levels of the organization, so 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.

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