5 Ways to Improve Employee Productivity

Updated: 21 Oct, 2021 | Bill Peatman

With all the talk of the Great Resignation and the need to retain employees, you might think that now is not the best time to ask them to boost productivity—it might seem like for more from your workers and turn them off.   

You would be wrong. There are strong correlations between employee productivity, engagement, and retention. This means that many of the best practices for increasing productivity also boost engagement and retention.

In other words: employees want to be more productive.

Here are five ways you make productivity, engagement and retention formula work for you.

1. Offer Learning Opportunities to Improve Employee Productivity  

The U.S. National Center for Education Statistics attributes more than a century of productivity gains to gains in access to education. It is not just formal classroom education—online courses, credential programs, and skills-building classes also drive productivity. It is easier than ever to connect employees with resources that enable them to learn and grow.

And guess what?

  • Online education platform Udemy found that more than half of high-engagement companies have employees who spend 31–50 hours learning per year.

  • LinkedIn's Workforce Learning Report found that 95 percent of employees would remain with a company that invests in helping them learn.

Learning boosts productivity, engagement, and retention—triple crown.

Ways companies can promote learning include:

  • Providing access to Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Udemy or LinkedIn Learning

  • Offer tuition assistance programs (you can deduct $5250 per employee per year)

  • Create learning incentive programs and contests

2. Invest in Technology to Improve Employee Productivity

Investing in productivity technology is closely related to learning and similarly drives productivity, engagement, and retention.

An oft-cited Gallup poll that found just 34 percent of U.S. workers are engaged also found that less than half believe they have the right tech to do their jobs. As with education, "the contribution of investments in hardware and people together makeup nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of productivity growth" in the U.S., data from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found.

The link between technology and productivity was in stark relief during the pandemic. Companies that had not invested in video conferencing, instant messaging, laptop computers, and other remote productivity tools either did so or fell behind. Overall, most employees said they were more productive thanks in part to those technologies. According to the Labor Department, worker productivity rose 4.3 percent in the first quarter of 2021, one of the highest rates in years.

  • 83 percent of employees said digital technology that allows them to work remotely makes them more engaged.

  • 82 percent of workers said their engagement significantly impacted by the quality of their workplace technology.

  • 77 percent of employees will look for a new employer if an employer does not give them the tools or they need to do their job well.

Once again, productivity investments not only boost productivity—engagement and retention also rise sharply.

Not surprisingly, the productivity tech that has a significant impact on engagement is:

  • Video conference and chat to enable remote collaboration
  • Project management tools that keep projects on track and streamline communication
  • Wiki platforms that document processes and standards for asynchronous communication

3. Promote Employee Wellness to Improve Employee Productivity

Employee wellness is top of mind for executives and HR leaders alike. Companies that want to improve productivity need to look at how they treat and support workers and genuinely address overall health and wellness. Consider these numbers:

  • 95 percent of employees are thinking about leaving their jobs

  • Burnout consistently ranks as the top reason for quitting

Burnout is not just a matter of being tired or overworked. "Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to exhaustion, detachment, feelings of ineffectiveness," according to Psychology Today. It takes more than a good night's sleep to recover. That is where structured health and wellness benefits come in.

  • "Sufferers of burnout ultimately experience a lack of productivity and poor job performance," Psychology today also said.

  • According to HR Executive, access to multiple employer-sponsored health and wellness benefit programs has the greatest impact on employee engagement.

  • 46 percent of workers at businesses that offer multiple wellness programs are proud to be a part of the company, while just 14 percent of employees at companies that don’t offer wellness programs are proud to be there.

As with learning and productivity tech, wellness drives productivity which drives engagement and retention.

Offering multiple programs is essential because there are no one-size-fits-all wellness programs. A free gym membership will help some employees relieve stress, while others may need access to more formal mental health programs.

Workers are under duress, and the risk of burnout is real. According to the Academy to Innovate HR, the most in-demand wellness benefits are:

  • Mental health

  • Telehealth

  • Personalized wellness coaching

  • Stress management

  • Burnout prevention

4. Improve Employee Productivity with Recognition

Gallup calls employee recognition a "low cost, high impact" tool for productivity, engagement, and retention.

"Only one in three workers in the U.S. strongly agree that they received recognition or praise for doing good work," Gallup said. "Further, employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they'll quit in the next year."

But while 66 percent of workers polled by Gallup do not feel recognized, 72 percent of executives rank recognition as having a significant impact on employee engagement. This disconnect suggests that the executives are not practicing what they preach, or their recognition efforts fall flat for workers.

Here is how recognition impacts productivity, engagement, and retention:

  • Employees that receive one piece of praise per day are 30 percent more productive.

  • 90 percent of workers say they work harder when they receive positive recognition.

  • Recognition has the highest impact on employee engagement—30 percent more than a higher salary.

  • Lack of recognition is the number one reason employees leave their jobs.

Gallup found that the recognition employees value most is positive public feedback from their direct manager, closely followed by feedback from the CEO/owner. That does not cost you a penny. Other popular ways of recognizing top performers include:

  • Cash bonuses

  • Plaques or certificates

  • Extra time off

  • Paid trips

  • Gift certificates

5. Improve Employee Productivity by Listening

The multiple crises of 2020 showed us the importance of listening to employees. The remote work, a renewed focus on equality, vaccine mandates, and other seismic social events forced employers to listen because they were going through completely new disruptions. There were no blueprints, and they could not just tell employees how to respond. They had to ask.

Listening is closely related to recognition. Listening is another way of recognizing your employees, letting them know that you see them. Employees are more productive when this happens.

  • 41 percent of high-performance organizations regularly survey employee sentiment

  • 28 percent of low-performance organizations regularly monitor employee sentiment

  • 27 percent of high-performance organizations have always-on feedback mechanisms

  • 7 percent of low-performance organizations have always-on feedback mechanisms

Listening to employees also boosts employee engagement.

  • 63 percent of employees at businesses that ask for feedback are highly engaged.
  • 27 percent of employees that do not ask for employee feedback are highly engaged.

And then there is retention. The Harvard Business Review said, "Want fewer employees to quit? Listen to them." The publication’s survey of 27,000 employees found that:

  • 62 percent of employees at companies that repeatedly ask for feedback recommend their company to others.

  • 5 percent of employees at companies that do not repeatedly ask for feedback recommend their company to others.

Here are some methods of listening to employees:

  • Conduct short, topic-specific "pulse surveys" around job satisfaction.

  • Use annual or semiannual employee engagement surveys.

  • Create a chat channel where employees can anonymously provide feedback 24/7.

Once again, a best practice for improving employee productivity also boosts engagement and retention. Of course, you must act on what you hear. Despite spending north of $700 million to boost engagement, U.S. employee engagement continues to hover around 35 percent. That is because 30 percent of workers think employee surveys are worthless because nothing changes.

Bonus: Improve Employee Productivity for Executives with a Virtual Assistant

Remote executive assistants, or virtual assistants went mainstream during the pandemic. Everyone was remote so the location of an executive assistant became irrelevant, and executives were very suddenly overloaded with admin work. Remote executive assistants can take a lot of busy work off executives’ plates including:

  • Scheduling meetings

  • Planning travel

  • Filing expenses

  • Data entry

  • CRM maintenance

  • Invoicing and payment processing

Those are just starting points. Executives spend 16 hours a week on day-to-day tasks. As a virtual assistant gets to know you and your business, they can move on to more nuanced tasks like event planning, sales follow-up, email marketing, and more—giving you 16 more hours to do your best work.

ROI of Improving Employee Productivity

A disengaged employee costs an organization $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary in lost productivity. That added up to a total loss productivity cost of $350 million per year for U.S. businesses. Turnover is also costly and disruptive. It takes an average of four months and 1.5-2 times the departing employee's salary to recruit, interview, onboard, and train a replacement. Some recommendations here are also costly—education, technology, and wellness programs are not free. Recognition and listening can be. The productivity gains from productivity investments are significant and multiply as engagement and retention rise. As Richard Branson said: "Customers come second, employees first. It is a philosophy that brings unexpected benefits to both the company and its clients."

7 Skills of Highly Effective SMB Leaders

About the Author: Bill is Prialto's senior content marketing manager and writes about the future of work and how businesses can be more productive and successful. His work has appeared in the World Economic Forum Agenda blog and CIO magazine.

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