The Mysterious Decline Of Worker Productivity—Solved

4 steps to building employee productivity.
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4 steps to getting employees back on track.

As 2023 begins, we are struck with the harsh reality that people are working more—and producing less. A recent report on employee productivity stated that this trending decline is reaching levels we haven’t witnessed in nearly 40 years. And it’s no far-fetched claim to see the trickle-down effect on the country’s economic growth as we continuously dance around the term “recession.” 

The productivity crash has posed not only a threat, but a massive mystery to organizations, and no industry is immune. At the start of the pandemic, productivity skyrocketed in a way no one had witnessed for years, largely due to the overnight transition into remote work that transpired in conjunction with a universal social shut down. So experts are left twiddling their thumbs in bewilderment, begging the question, how do we curb this trend and get the collective workforce back on track?

It’s important to note that how we define and prioritize productivity is evolving. When gazing through the correct and most relevant lens, there’s a much clearer picture and direction toward a solution. That solution requires investment in the workforce, slashing outdated procedures and measurements instead of personnel, and addressing the waves of burnout.

Step one: respond to the needs of the employee.

Whether it’s a matter of company culture, morale, transparent communication, providing relevant development opportunities or encouraging a sustainable work-life balance, a great deal of the employee’s well-being falls in the hands of the employer. 

There has to be an open line of communication for consistent feedback, one that allows the employee to safely voice concerns or issues, while the employer can coach, guide and mentor as needed. Avoiding the opportunity to have honest conversations aside from an annual review leaves the employee feeling neglected and lacking any sense of accountability or motivation.

Step two: bring intentionality and strategy to remote work protocol.

Remote and hybrid working environments present a brand-new challenge, especially considering how quickly most were shoved into that climate without proper protection. Employees instantly rejoiced over the newfound flexibility and autonomy, but maintaining consistent productivity highly depends on the ways in which an employer navigates this transition.

While many people report an increased sense of productivity when working from home, the real question remains: are you moving the business forward? Gathering in-person promotes creativity and innovation—whether in the conference room or by the coffee machine—far more than any one person is able to on their own. So we have to hustle back to the drawing board and decide what a productive, interactive and engaging remote work routine looks like.

Zoom fatigue is also a serious problem. Allowing employees to participate in meetings off-camera erases a thick layer of accountability. Organic run-ins are no longer possible, so employers must create opportunities for internal interaction and collaboration.

Step three: make employee engagement a top priority.

Employee engagement is directly linked to whether or not the individual finds their work meaningful or rewarding—but the mistake most make is associating engagement with happiness.

Engagement is not a reflection of feelings or emotions. Are the employees responding to emails in a punctual manner? Do they actively participate in conversations or meetings? Are they invested in the company mission with the goal of moving the business forward? When an employee is engaged, the business thrives, evident through other metrics such as retention and productivity.

Step four: address, educate and prevent employee burnout.

People are exhausted. As we find our social cadence after a three-year hiatus, calendars are more crowded than ever, and without the ability to peer across a desk to ask that question, employees are hyperactive on platforms like Slack, and jumping from video call to video call. Burnout is off the charts.

We all had major epiphany moments throughout the pandemic, promising ourselves we’d return to life as we knew it with a newfound appreciation for the simple things in life, a slower pace and the opportunity to disconnect. How quickly we’ve gone rogue and found a sense of comfort in an overcommitted, overstimulated routine.

Companies are exploring the four-day work week structure, casual Fridays, investing in wellness programs and various other methods of preaching self-care. Employees have made their demands in regard to the caliber of benefits they’re seeking from an employer, and it’s encouraging to see various organizations stepping up to the plate.

An employer has a certain obligation to the employee—how are we teaching and demonstrating the meaning and value of productivity? And what steps can the employer take to ensure everything from the workplace environment to day-to-day communication that promotes positive engagement, leading to increased productivity and a profitable business model?

Companies have endured a storm of unpredictable and unprecedented change, but that’s not to say the road ahead is dark. Facing adversity as a result of change requires a willingness to adapt, and as leaders, we must take care of our people and trust that in doing so, we allow the business to prosper.

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