Before diving into exactly how productivity can be improved, we first have to explore the question of why productivity is suffering in the first place. In short, what’s the nature of the obstacles or barriers that are preventing employees from attaining top productivity?
HubSpot helped answer this question by conducting an analysis of a nationwide survey of more than 2,000 professionals and found interesting statistics regarding barriers to productivity in the workplace:
It’s no surprise: The modern-day office is full of barriers to efficiency. For simplicity’s sake, we can organize these barriers to productivity into three main categories.
Categorizing the obstacles to productivity is important because it will allow you to quickly identify which category needs the most attention in your organization. Moreover, some categories are more manageable to treat than others.
That said, by further organizing these obstacles to productivity, we can reduce them into two main categories: external and internal. However, it helps to think of these, not as binary categories, but rather living on two ends of a continuum.
Productivity statistics show that the average workday is filled with hundreds, if not thousands of these external distractions--big and small. These are often visible components of work such as printer noises, talking colleagues, visual disturbances, digital notifications, loud colleagues, and so on. But external barriers to productivity don’t stop there.
Other external barriers that are slightly less tangible exist, such as multitasking, missing or slow and clunky tools, murky goals, and being overworked. These barriers result from poor organizational practices and expectation management.
The bad news: These barriers fuel procrastination and wreak havoc on an employee’s ability to get to work, focus, and concentrate.
The good news, however, is that these barriers to productivity are the most tangible and real, and therefore are easier to treat and minimize with proper intervention and control.
Think back to a time you were in school and needed to complete a paper or assignment. You were working from home, or someplace quiet like a library with minimal distractions. However, you still couldn’t seem to get into the zone and focus on completing the task. Everything around you seemed infinitely more interesting than buckling down and starting on that assignment. You even started cleaning your room instead!
This is the product of internal or mental barriers to productivity. It could be a result of several different factors. Perhaps you weren’t actually interested in the class or topic at hand, or maybe the teacher didn’t adequately explain the assignment, or maybe the sheer volume of work seemed completely overwhelming or intimidating.
In the professional context, internal barriers to productivity, such as lack of communication and a need for autonomy and praise, pose a significant challenge as they are mostly invisible, and as a result, more difficult to identify, measure, and ultimately treat.
This is where an Employee Engagement Program comes in to dismantle psychological barriers to productivity by fostering an environment of continuous real-time feedback characterized by mutual respect, trust, appreciation, and, most importantly, recognition.
External barriers to productivity are more tangible and, therefore, more easily managed if the right office policies are put into place. It’s all about creating an office where everyone respects each other’s work and space. That environment of respect eventually will become an integral part of office culture.
To get the ball rolling, management may have to set some workplace policies in place. For example, let’s say that you’re a manager in an “open concept” workplace, you should make your employees know that if they want to have an extended chat with someone on the “floor,” they should go to the meeting room or lounge area, to not disrupt or distract the flow of others around them.
And for employees who make or take calls often, create a designated area that is shut off from the rest of the group so the employee can make a call without disturbing everyone else.
When it comes to other personal distractions, it would be unrealistic to expect full productivity if every time an email or Slack message popped up, they needed to drop their more critical work to respond.
The answer: Encourage employees to manage their time effectively by carving out blocks of time during the day dedicated solely to answering less urgent chat and emails.
Alternatively, allow your staff the “right” to go into total “do not disturb” mode if they feel they need to, or go one step further and implement a simple priority system so when an email or chat is sent it’s assigned a certain level of priority or urgency.
Be aware, however, that if you apply this kind of office communication policy that it also means you’ll have to adjust your expectations to align with it. So, be sure to communicate any new office communication policies with all your employees.
Overcoming psychological barriers to productivity is a challenge. Employees may not even be aware or honest with themselves regarding the underlying issue that’s impacting their productivity. However, if you should keep one management motto in mind, it should be about making work as “human” as possible.
What does that mean exactly?
It’s about treating people not as replaceable assets to fulfill cold productivity goals, but rather as living breathing humans with rich and dynamic lives, personalities, and interests.
Seeing human dynamics through a purely mechanical lens will have you missing a crucial tenet of people management that is needed for positive outcomes. Humans are not specialized task robots or automated, unfeeling machines—quite the contrary! In the long-run, treating them as such is detrimental to overall employee engagement and, in extension, productivity. It may feel counter-intuitive, but the more rigid you are with your staff —placing constraints on them—the more productivity will suffer as a result.
What does this mean for management in practice?
Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant Tweeted some wise words related to productivity recently. He said, “zoom out for purpose. Zoom in for progress.”
When short-term tasks feel trivial, lumping them into a larger goal makes them meaningful.— Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant) February 3, 2020
When long-term goals feel impossible, slicing them into smaller pieces makes them manageable.
Zoom out for purpose. Zoom in for progress.#MondayMotivation https://t.co/DsK1Ua6dYn
In short, management has to remain flexible in framing and re-framing tasks to keep teams aligned, motivated, and productive.
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