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Wondering how to improve employee productivity? I recently published my new book called Everyone Wants to Work Here. In it, I reveal the best methods–proven methods–to improve company culture. I’ve gleaned these strategies over 20 years of working with leaders across the globe to increase their workers’ ability to deliver results.

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But here’s the key for leaders: you can’t improve employee productivity without also preserving your employees’ work-life balance. 

Otherwise, you’re playing a short-term game, one in which you’ll be at risk of frequent turnover due to burnout. This is unfortunate, because replacing employees will cost you a great deal, both in terms of your reputation capital and actual money.

In this post, I’ll share some of the strategies I’ve used to help thousands of leaders improve their employee productivity.

 

How to Improve Employee Productivity

Let’s say you’ve surveyed your employees and, unfortunately, you discover quite a few are feeling frazzled at the end of their work days. They report feeling busy, but are requesting help with “time management.” Here’s what you can do:

1. Stop Working Too Much

A woman sits on a pier overlooking a lake covered with fog and enjoys coffee

After two decades in the productivity field, I’ve landed on a definition for work-life balance that I think encompasses its goal of reducing stress, pressure, and burnout.

Simply put, I define work-life balance as not working too much. And despite the simplicity of this definition, there’s a lot to be said for limiting work for yourself and your team members. There are three components critical to optimal knowledge work: physical well-being, emotional well-being, and creativity.

Every business has “crunch times,” but those should be followed by periods of lighter work.

Research suggests working 38-45 hours per week on average is optimal. Keeping your work limited to this amount of time allows you to refresh yourself by spending time with family, pursuing hobbies, working out, and doing other activities that restore your brain for work.

As a team leader, though, you can’t just pay lip service to the concept. Forget telling an employee to take time off if you’re not planning to blaze the trail. In order for the entire team to benefit from true work-life balance, you’ll need to lead by example.

 

2. Empower Team Members to Make Decisions

A young worker is smiling at his office desk

Provide clarity on the tasks. And most importantly, define their decision-making power. In the process of proactively working to achieve their significant results, what types of decisions are they free to make without checking in with you? 

I advocate mentoring in hindsight, which means that I advise giving employees control over decision-making within their own job responsibilities, while understanding that mistakes are part of the process, but necessary to learning and finding new ideas.

Then, in retrospect, debrief with them and underscore the lesson, only then offering advice about the path you would recommend in a similar situation. This has proven to be a useful technique with my clients.

 

3. Allow Employees to Skip Meetings

A worker attends a Zoom meeting on their laptop

One of the key decisions you need to allow team members to make is whether or not to attend a meeting.

Too often, meetings are a waste of time, and many people who do not need to attend are invited because the meeting organizer wants to keep them in the loop or not hurt their feelings by not inviting them.

If “meeting mania” is present in your organization, you can teach your employees how to hold more efficient meetings.

And then, empower them to skip those meetings they feel won’t help them progress toward their most significant results.

 

4. Implement a Corporate Communications Policy

There’s heaps of research to show that a 24/7, always-on corporate culture—one in which leaders send after-hours emails and don’t advocate for appropriate downtime—undermines productivity. 

One of the best ways to dismantle a culture of urgency is by implementing a communications policy that clearly outlines when it is and isn’t okay to communicate via various channels.

This type of corporate communications policy also describes what channels to use for what sorts of communications, and how long the expected response time should be. 

 

5. Make Information Self-Serve

Synchronous communication, such as meetings and live chats, happen in real-time. But with asynchronous communication, there is a delay between responses. 

While, traditionally, offices have relied more on real-time synchronous communications, the pandemic and resulting remote work has shifted the balance a bit.

I encourage leaders to lean into more asynchronous communication

This requires leaders to make readily available and accessible whatever information employees need to make progress toward achieving their significant results. No one should need to ask you, “Where’s this report?” or “Can I get access to this folder?” 

By ensuring the information your team needs to do their job is available, organized, and accessible (rather than hiding in individual inboxes), your team can get what they need whenever they need it (asynchronously),and you remove individuals from becoming an obstacle and improve productivity for your employees.

 

6. Use a Workflow Management System

A sign that says "Workflow" in the middle with arrows pointing out to other words such as "productivity" "planning' and "strategy"

One of the best ways to improve employee productivity is to implement a workflow management system. A workflow management system will help your team members store, organize, prioritize, manage, and execute all of their commitments, communication, and information.  

The workflow management system that I’ve developed is called the Empowered Productivity™ System. Today, thousands of leaders use it to improve their team members’ productivity. 

When an entire company uses the same workflow management system, it exponentially increases employee productivity. The reason is that everyone helps one another use the same habits and behaviors to achieve their personal and team’s most significant results.

 

7. Invest in Employee Training and Development

A photo of an employee training and development session.

According to Gallup, companies that invest in employee development programs are twice as likely to retain their employees.

These companies also experience an 11% greater profitability than those that don’t invest in similar employee development programs.

When companies commit to helping employees develop their skills, workers have the opportunity to make long-term, positive behavior changes. They also are more likely to feel loyal to the company. 

When done right, an excellent training and development program can also attract new A-players who are keen to join the company and participate in similar training themselves.

 

8. Implement a Burnout Recovery Plan

A woman in yoga clothes sits with her eyes closed surrounded by outstretched hands holding various communication tools like a bullhorn and a computer and a clock

Inevitably, whenever you turn your attention to improving employee productivity, you’ll discover some workers who are on the path to burning out, or are already there. That’s why it’s important to remember that it’s more costly to replace a team member than hire a new one. 

According to Gallup, replacing workers requires one-half to two times an employee’s annual salary.

If your workforce has an average annual salary of $50,000, it costs $9,000 a year to keep each disengaged worker, and between $25,000 and $100,000 to replace them.

So you need to train your managers to watch for signs of burnout, and have a Burnout Recovery Plan available to help these employees feel energized and fulfilled at work once again.

 

How to Measure Employee Productivity

A young woman in an office takes notes.

Gone are the days when we measure employee productivity by whether we see our workers sitting at their desks diligently toiling away until all hours.

Today, a key to measuring employee productivity is using qualitative data in the short-term and quantitative data in the longer-term. If you’re relying on traditional quantitative productivity measurements, you’re unlikely to recognize a serious and costly problem until it’s too late.

In my experience, the best way to measure daily workplace productivity is to ask your employees a question about how they feel at the end of their workdays. Do they feel like they made progress on their most important tasks? Do they feel energized? If not, you’re detecting a potential productivity problem before it becomes too costly for your company. 

 

Why Is Employee Productivity Important?

A man sits at his desk holding his head, overwhelmed by work

At the risk of stating the obvious, your employees’ ability to make progress toward your company’s most significant results is what determines your overall success. Many people mistake attending back-to-back meetings and sending endless emails with being productive. But nothing could be further from the truth. 

Too often I see companies with a 24/7 “always on” work culture—one in which employees feel busy but, when pressed, they admit they don’t feel that they are making progress toward their personal, team, and company objectives. Needless to say, in this work culture, your employees are more likely to burn out.

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Individuals who are burning out are unlikely to be productive. Rather than writing off complaints as an “attitude problem,” you’d be wise to examine the role of your company culture in contributing to the problem and undermining employee productivity.

Learn more about how to dismantle a toxic work culture and build one that truly supports your team in my new book.

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