From water cooler gossip… to interminable meetings… to hours wasted scrolling social media, the modern workplace is teeming with threats to employee productivity. And those distractions are taking a toll: several recent surveys show U.S. employees spending a mere 40 to 50 percent of their workdays engaged in job-related tasks. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to help employees avoid common productivity pitfalls.
The Purgatory of Pointless Meetings
Today we’re going to identify some of the biggest obstacles to workplace productivity and offer strategies for taming those time wasters. First, let’s address unnecessary, poorly planned, or excessively long meetings. We’ve all been there. Our brains turn off, our legs go numb, and we struggle to remain engaged with the proceedings… all the while mentally reviewing the list of everything we could be accomplishing if we only could get back to our desks.
Before scheduling a meeting, consider whether it’s necessary to accomplish your goals. This of course necessitates knowing exactly what your goals are! Invite only essential personnel, bearing in mind that you may want to notify or include others as a courtesy… but allow these individuals the option to decline. Draw up an agenda of items to be covered and distribute it in advance; communicate start and end times, as well as specific times to be allowed for each agenda item. Address technology needs, such as microphones or projection equipment, well in advance to confirm all are in good working order. During the meeting, stick to the agenda to the best of your ability. Try to end on time, and communicate next steps as you close or immediately following via email.
Management Missteps That Undermine Growth
Micromanagement is another impediment to productivity. Managers must learn to delegate tasks to employees and allow them the freedom to work independently and with confidence. Constantly hovering or micromanaging tasks defeats the purpose of delegating, and is bad for morale to boot.
Now let’s talk training. Whether it’s dedicated on-the-job training, formal courses, or online learning…any investment in training is an investment in productivity. Properly trained employees are more effective…more likely to stay at their jobs… and less likely to expose your organization to unnecessary risks and liabilities. Explore on- and off-site learning, and take advantage of training offered through your industry’s trade association. If time and budgets are tight, consider options such as online courses.
Inflexibility also damages productivity. Over the past few decades, advances in technology have enabled some employees to use flex-time or telecommuting to get their jobs done… often more productively than they would in a traditional office setting. Sometimes these arrangements even help the employee avoid taking a leave of absence. While flex-time and telecommuting won’t suit every company or position, being open to alternative work situations can pay off in loyal employees who appreciate striking a good work/life balance.
When Corporate Culture Brings Down Morale
Now let’s talk about rumor mills and gossip. Office gossip is a phenomenon nearly as old as the office itself. And rumors and gossip are part of human nature… but an office subject to a constant rumor mill will ultimately suffer from poor morale and lower productivity. To stem the chatter before it becomes damaging, managers must do two things: First, maintain confidentiality to the highest degree possible, especially as it relates to individual employees and personnel issues. Second, communicate with employees regularly about issues that affect the company, their departments, and their individual positions. Managers should also be willing to listen and respond to legitimate employee complaints and concerns.
A toxic corporate culture can also tank morale, which in turn brings down productivity. Your corporate culture is the set of shared values and beliefs under which your organization operates; it guides both your business and individual employee conduct. If your culture has turned toxic… for example, through the tolerance of such things as bullying, discrimination, or harassment… productivity will be harmed. A toxic culture can also evolve through poor leadership; frequent or unexplained layoffs or firings; arbitrary adoption and erratic enforcement of policy; and financial crises, among other things. All of these contribute to a stressful work environment, and diminish employees’ capacity to focus on their jobs. While some of these factors may be beyond immediate control, employers and managers should always strive to build a positive brand and remedy any institutionalized negative attitudes and behaviors.
Digital Downtime Detracts from Work-time
Lastly, let’s address digital distractions. While electronic communication has revolutionized how we work, it also has the capacity to impair our efficiency. Consider this: an email can answer an important question in an instant, but may also force us to wade through dozens of unnecessary “reply all” responses. Similarly, computers help us work faster, but also make it easy for employees to “check out” during the workday with online shopping, entertainment, or social media. And that’s not even taking into account the texts, tweets, and calls coming in on personal cell phones and devices. Of course, managers must be realistic: unless it’s a security threat, employees should be permitted occasional personal use of company technology and devices. But this activity can’t be allowed to impede employees successfully performing their jobs. To set guidelines and boundaries, employers should establish an email and internet use policy, and train employees on its guidelines, expectations, and best practices.
Thank you for joining today to discuss workplace productivity. To learn more about benefits, HR, and employee management, and to access our library of supervisor and employee training modules, visit us online at HR360.com.