Guest Post by Marie Miguel
Obviously, no-one is going to argue that productivity is important. However, any word used as often can have subtle shades of meaning: do you track productivity by people arriving on time and spending as many hours as possible at their desks? By tasks completed, and if so how do you compare picking apples with juicing oranges? By which employees complain most often? Whatever system you’re using, you’ll eventually run up against an inescapable fact: labor does not equal results.
Productivity no longer means simply convincing people to work harder
Most productivity metrics break down at some point; you may be obsessing about the number of tickets closed per day while ignoring the actual level of customer satisfaction, or be encouraging sales staff to make a certain number of client calls per week regardless of whether these result in revenue. This isn’t to say that we should abandon measuring performance, whether of teams or individuals, but we should keep in mind that there are many different aspects to this. The employees who are apparently the laziest are often the most effective, but pushing them to work harder can often have a negative effect on their productivity by upsetting whatever “system” they’ve found to work best for them.
If you take the time to think about this issue and do a little reading, the first truth you’ll discover is that movement, while tiring people out and possibly looking quite impressive, isn’t always in the right direction. Much of this is simply caused by miscommunication, which will cause employees to prioritize the wrong things, or work on tasks that will soon be irrelevant. The second thing you’ll realize is that improving productivity, based solely on an arbitrary metric, is usually a mug’s game.
The contribution direct labor input makes to a product’s final cost, in many industries, is now lower than ever. On the other hand, factors that never enter into productivity calculations, such as employee retention – particularly of the most valuable, and therefore most mobile staff – and health-related absenteeism can have a critical impact on the bottom line. Increasing productivity no longer means simply convincing people to work harder.
Impact of Stress on Employee Productivity
If your focus is on company-wide, long term productivity, one of the first things to look at is the level of stress your employees are subjected to. At a most basic level, this affects their health, potentially leading to things like heart disease, diabetes and a variety of mental illnesses. This doesn’t mean just the occasional sick day being taken, but long term absences or even losing a critical contributor due to a chronic condition. Alternatively, they might simply leave because they’ve become fed up with the environment you offer.
Workers who are less stressed are less likely to procrastinate, more likely to take initiative and offer suggestions, and far less prone to start interpersonal conflicts out of feelings of frustration. Overly stressed employees, on the other hand, can end up feeling resentful towards their employer, unable to deal with criticism, paranoid about their job security, and unable to concentrate on their work due to mental and emotional exhaustion.
Given all of these negative effects, you’ll be glad to know that there are quite a few ways to reduce stress. Companies are increasingly offering benefits such as free cafeteria food, flexible working hours, free stress counseling and various types of assistance to parents – not only to attract the best talent or because they’re nice, but also to assist their employees in achieving a better work/life balance. Work is, after all, the primary cause of stress in the lives of most people; if you can get them to actually like coming in on a Monday morning, your productivity worries are likely to be a thing of the past.
Recent research from Sweden correlated the characteristics of different managers, as described by those working for them, with health problems employees suffered over a long period. Unlike surveys that simply ask people to describe their level of stress, this offers a completely objective metric suitable for statistical analysis. Surprisingly enough, it was found that working for a boss lacking certain abilities increased the chance of having a heart attack by a full 40%!
Even if an on-site massage therapist isn’t going to fit into your budget for this year, though, there are certain things you can do, starting today, that can enormously improve the level of comfort, commitment and job satisfaction in your workplace. As it turns out, managers who don’t shirk responsibility for making decisions, listen to those under them, communicate clearly and don’t act arbitrarily is one of the key determinants in creating a pleasant place to work in.
Unfortunately, there are no clear indications that a particular executive will be able to organize a team and its challenges so that this kind of environment is achieved, nor is there a cut-and-dried set of rules to follow when managing your own team. A completely unsympathetic despot of a boss can unintentionally cause those under him to feel appreciated and unworried if he sets clear goals at every level and treats all workers equally. By contrast, a very personable manager who relies on a few key people to transmit his directives to all employees, and convey information back to him in turn, can lead to a situation where no-one knows what’s expected of them or what their part of the big picture is. There are an infinite number of variations on these themes – most of us can probably identify a few, good and bad, from personal experience. It is highly recommended that every manager reads the article, and the seven key points at the end, found at the link above.
Author Bio: Marie Miguel is an avid internet researcher. She is fueled by her determination to answer the many questions she hasn’t been able to find the answer to anywhere else. When she finds these answers she likes to spread the knowledge to others seeking help. She is always looking for outlets to share her information, therefore she occasionally has her content published on different websites and blogs. Even though she doesn’t run one for herself she loves contributing to others.