The Comprehensive Guide to Employee Productivity


Most employees start their mornings hoping that they would have a productive day. However, it’s only natural for humans to get distracted. This is evident in what scientists from Princeton University and the University of California, Berkley discovered in their study. They found that between bursts of attention, our brain pauses and scans the environment to see if there’s something more important. Getting distracted, according to the study, is part of our survival instincts. Ian Fiebelkorn, one of the proponents of the research, said:

Think about when life was more dangerous. You would have to constantly be on the lookout, you would want to always be aware if there was something around you with bigger teeth.

So, managers should expect employees to deliberately or unintentionally pay attention to the distractions around them. With concentration shattered, workforce productivity suffers. Indeed, business owners and team leaders must put systems in place to ensure employee efficiency and focus.

What Is Work Productivity and How Do You Measure It?

Just because someone looks busy, it doesn’t mean that they’re doing valuable work. So, how do you know if an employee is efficient? Well, there are productivity metrics that analyze the amount of output and the time it takes to complete it. You can also measure productivity by comparing a subject’s performance against the benchmark for a group of workers performing similar tasks.

By measuring productivity, project managers can evaluate the efficiency of an employee for a specific task. Moreover, this system helps determine if a project is over or understaffed.

Internal and External Factors that Hamper Productivity

When they are determined and free of distractions, humans can produce exceptional results. Unfortunately, in the tech-driven world, it is more challenging to stay focused. After all, our minds struggle to resist instant gratification. According to a study conducted by Hubspot, an average worker spends about 28% of their workday on distractions. A separate study from Atlassian revealed that people only spend about 50% of their day on valuable work.

Naturally, any manager would wonder how they can increase productivity in the workplace. Even so, they cannot expect humans to perform as efficiently as machines. They must determine how they can maximize workforce resources while ensuring that they treat employees fairly and humanely.

Well, it would be a good start to approach the idea of efficiency from a modern perspective. You must also know the internal and external factors that can hamper productivity.

External Factors that Affect Productivity

Think of the regular workday scenario for the average employee and the various external factors that affect their productivity. Hundreds, if not thousands, of micro distractions. They can be tangible or intangible elements, such as digital notifications, chatty colleagues, and other types of noises. External productivity barriers also extend to other slightly less-tangible factors. These include faulty or missing tools, multi-tasking, and unclear directions.

Often, these result in poor expectation management and organizational practices. Even so, it’s easy to spot these problems. With proper intervention and tools, managers can reduce, if not eradicate, these productivity barriers.

Internal Factors that Affect Productivity

Let’s look at the following scenario to understand the internal factors that affect productivity at work. You have a motivated and hardworking employee who feels that their daily achievements go unnoticed. Meanwhile, managers are overworked to the brink of getting burnt out, especially since the entire organization overlooks honest and open communication. Consequently, managers only find time and energy to recognize employees during official company evaluations which happen only a few times a year.

At the end of a packed week, the employee hopes that they’d get a sincere expression of acknowledgment or gratitude from their managers. However, as time goes by, they put in the same effort, but they still don’t get the recognition they want. They start to become disengaged as their basic need for appreciation is ignored. Ultimately, their productivity suffers, and they may even end up missing work regularly.

The problem with these internal barriers to productivity is that they are mostly invisible. Since they are difficult to identify, it becomes challenging to analyze and treat them. Having employee engagement programs like satisfaction surveys will help alleviate these psychological barriers to productivity. An organization must invest in regular and real-time feedback that is characterized by trust, respect, appreciation, and recognition.

Do Productivity Levels Gauge a Company’s Efficiency?

Productivity Levels

Indeed, employment productivity is an obvious factor that determines whether a company is performing well. However, this corporate element serves other purposes beyond that. For instance, if a review reveals a lagging productivity number, it could be a sign of underlying problems. Low efficiency levels can be symptoms of collaboration issues, employee disengagement, online time wasting, or inefficient digital communication systems.

For example, an employee may be spending too much time processing their emails before they can even get their actual tasks started. As a result, a big chunk of their valuable work time goes into reading and answering messages. Most of the time, employees find themselves caught in the ‘small-ball’ or ‘administrative’ details of their job. When it comes to understanding ROI, managers must identify productivity leaks.

By spotting problems that affect an employee’s efficiency, a manager can determine an appropriate solution. In our email-related example, the organization can invest in a new email management app. Managers will then measure if the new system has helped improve productivity. This way, they can determine if they’ve made a smart investment for the future growth of the business.

Using an Automated Tool for Measuring Employee Productivity

As you can see, monitoring your employees’ productivity is a critical aspect of business operations. In theory, tracking efficiency should be easy, but it can be different once you put it in practice. After all, productivity also encompasses a wide range of qualitative factors, including remote work and collaboration, just to name a few.

Traqq - time tracking app

To help you gather the information you need to make smart decisions, we recommend using a powerful tool like Traqq. This employee monitoring app measures productivity within the day-to-day operations. You can use this tool to keep an eye on what your employee is working on. It measures the activity levels on their device based on keyboard movements and mouse clicks. What’s more, it takes random screenshots and video recordings without infringing on an employee’s privacy. The images are blurred to the extent that would prevent sensitive information like private messages and passwords from leaking.

How to Improve Employee Productivity

There is no single solution to all sorts of problems related to productivity. To improve employee efficiency, you need to apply various tools and research-driven techniques. As we’ve mentioned, internal and external factors can affect productivity. Let’s look at how we can prevent common issues that hamper efficiency:

Minimize Distractions and Prevent Interruptions

It’s impossible to eliminate all distractions, but management can help to minimize them. For example, if you’re managing an ‘open concept’ office, you must watch out for chatty employees that catch the attention of other workers. You can tell them that they can extend their discussion in a private meeting room to avoid disturbing other people. If you have employees who often make or take calls, you should designate an area for them, ensuring that their voices won’t disrupt the others.

Office managers should intervene to control the workplace environment. They should set up areas for collaboration, focused work, and free socialization. Moreover, employees must be reminded to use the space efficiently and follow guidelines, especially regarding keeping noise levels down.

Recognize Top Performers Regularly

With a few clicks, employees can enjoy instant gratifications. Now, self-control can be challenging, especially when they know that rewards are distant. As such, it’s important to keep clear rewards in sight. Regularly praise performing employees and don’t wait for formal assessments that happen a few times annually. Managers should prioritize celebrating successes—no matter how small or big they are.

According to a 2019 Deloitte study, what workers appreciate the most is a straightforward and verbal ‘thank you’ for their daily work. One of the best ways to give regular feedback and recognition is by having a rewards and engagement program. Moreover, managers must encourage employees to take breaks and vacations. Stepping away from their duties will help them maintain overall productivity and mental energy levels.

Have a Systematic Approach to Tackling Tasks and Projects

You cannot keep on drawing the ‘urgent’ card on your employees and expect them to deliver quality results all the time. Without a systematic approach to handling tasks, employees will start to feel overwhelmed, and eventually, anxious. When goals are ambiguous and unrealistic, even looking at the to-do list will become downright paralyzing. Because they are afraid to fail, workers may have pent-up, anxious energy that would cause them to resort to instant gratification. So, instead of tackling their tasks, they may spend time on unnecessary web browsing, among other pointless things.

Supervisors need to ensure that goals are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Tasks should be broken down into smaller units that are more manageable and deliverable. Moreover, supervisors must ensure that employees feel that they have the support they need. This way, they won’t feel pressured and anxious.

In Conclusion

Remember that you cannot expect humans to be productive 100% of the time. The more rigid you are with your employees, the more their productivity will suffer. Of course, you shouldn’t let them do anything they want under work hours. However, there’s always something that an organization can do to make the workplace environment more conducive to productivity. Tools, best practices, and programs can be put in place to encourage employees to be more efficient at their duties.

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