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(Are You Making Your Employees Less Productive?)

Often overlooked in organizations, especially large ones, is the fact that productivity, happiness, and engagement are all related.  Employees who are happier and more satisfied at work are more productive and more engaged in the mission of the organization.
corporate culture of productivity
There are several ways to impact the happiness of the staff.  First, studies show that control makes us happy.  So employees who feel disempowered and micromanaged are less likely to feel like they have control over their work environment, and are therefore less likely to report being happy at work.  And there are two sides to this coin.  Managers and leaders often tell me that the biggest source of their distraction is interruptions from their staff.  If your employees often come to you with issues, they may feel like they are not empowered to solve problems on their own.  And if, when employees come to you with problems, you offer them solutions, instead of encouraging them to do what they think is best, this reinforces the idea that they are not empowered to solve problems on their own; furthering the employees’ unhappiness and continuing the managers’ distraction.

Another way to help your staff feel more in control, and therefore contribute to their happiness at work, is to be careful about encouraging multitasking. Have you inadvertently tied your employees to their email by always expecting an immediate response?  Even if you don’t expect an immediate response, do your employees think you do?  Or do you they think you will look more favorably on an immediate response? This causes employees to work in reactive mode all day long, and prevents them from being proactive — having the opportunity to assess their overall workload and choose what to work on next.

When companies fall into the habit of using internal email for immediate and urgent communication, the (often unintended) by-product is that employees are forced to always leave their email open and downloading, being distracted by every new message that comes in.  In addition to encouraging reaction as the constant mode of operation, it ensures constant multitasking, and prevents them from ever being able to focus on the task at hand for any period of time.  Studies show that this means that tasks will take longer and the quality of the output will be lower.  Constant multitasking also makes us more prone to making mistakes, more likely to miss important information and cues, and less likely to retain information in working memory, which impairs problem solving and creativity.

Supporting single-tasking and focus will help employees to feel less scattered and distracted, and therefore less stressed, contributing to their feeling of well-being at work.  And speaking of multitasking, give your staff the gift of your presence by turning away from your computer and putting down your smartphone when meeting or speaking with them.  This will help to make them feel valued and listened to — both factors that contribute to their happiness at work.

Look to this space in the future for more ways that corporate culture affects productivity.  Your comments are welcome.  Thanks for reading!

A version of this post also appears in my body of work on Texas Enterprise: Big Ideas in Business from the University of Texas at Austin.