How to Improve Employee Productivity in the New Work Environment
Measuring and increasing workplace productivity has always been top-of-mind for managers. But now, it's becoming an even higher priority as more and more businesses consider adopting a hybrid, or even a wholly remote, work arrangement for their employees.
Managing productivity is complex enough when employees are on-site; now, it has become even more challenging. In fact, according to a 2020 Harvard Business Review study, 40% of managers and supervisors express having "low self-confidence" in their ability to manage workers remotely.
And, on top of that, more than two in five business leaders are finding it "very challenging" to increase employee productivity today* — undoubtedly a business challenge, when you consider the fact that having an unproductive workforce can translate into lower revenues and higher costs, directly impacting the bottom line.
This is where a tailored strategy — supported by the right technology — can help. Creating policies and procedures that embrace flexible work arrangements, implementing workflow tools, and adopting learning management software can help both you and your employees thrive in a new workplace environment.
Factors affecting employee productivity
Lack of work-life balance
There's no doubt that working remotely can come with many perks for employees. However, those working from their home may find an inability to unplug from the "office" — whether it's a dedicated space in the home or the kitchen table — can blur the lines between work and personal time, making a healthy work-life balance a challenge for many.
If not checked, a lack of work-life balance can directly impact your business' bottom line. According to a Harvard Business Review study, burnout costs the "U.S. more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal, and insurance costs."
With many companies considering providing employees with flexible work arrangements, keeping your finger on the pulse of your employees' ability to separate their work life from their personal life is critical to overall employee and organizational performance.
Burnout is not the only challenge employees may encounter as a result of remote work. Mental health challenges — such as loneliness, isolation, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, to name a few — can impact employees' performance. This can result in a lack of motivation, disengagement, and exhaustion, negatively impacting employee productivity.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated mental health struggles for many. According to a recent Paychex survey, nearly half of the employees surveyed said that their mental health is worse than before the pandemic.
Lack of engagement
Feelings of isolation and burnout can also have an effect on employee engagement, which plays a key role in productivity. In fact, one study — conducted years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — found that feelings of isolation play a direct role in an employee's commitment to a company; the more isolated they feel, the lower their level of engagement.
These lower engagement levels "can be expected to play a significant role in driving the massive loss in productivity we are seeing worldwide," as stated in the Harvard Business Review. For example, "the social repercussions of [feelings of loneliness] directly impact work productivity because people disengage." And this type of disengagement can result in "almost 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, 16% lower profitability, and a 65% lower share price over time."
As such, according to The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), business leaders should consider implementing strategies to help mitigate loneliness, since it's possible that workplaces will "feel the aftershocks of isolation and burnout long after the pandemic is over."
A recent study showed that, before the COVID pandemic, employees got interrupted 50-60 times daily — between email, smartphone notifications, unnecessary phone calls, and people stopping by to chat — with 80% of those distractions being deemed as "unimportant."
Now, in addition to these interruptions, remote employees may also be dealing with distractions such as virtual schooling, caretaking, increased access to television or other digital devices, economic worry, and even health concerns. It goes without saying that this increase in distractions can cause a decrease in productivity, as well as an increase in their stress level.
How to improve employee productivity at work
Solving for decreased employee productivity must be done at the organizational level — from the top down — by implementing policies, procedures, and tools that directly support your employees. Through robust policies and procedures, transparency, and employee feedback, you can implement actionable solutions that better support and encourage employee productivity.
Below, we'll look at some specific ways to solve the productivity problems addressed above, helping you better manage employee productivity while boosting your bottom line in today's increasingly complex work environment.
Offer flexible scheduling
For many, the virtual workplace imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic gave employees more control over their work schedules — something that the majority of the workforce is hoping will continue after the pandemic. In fact, according to a recent study by SHRM, flexibility is one of the most important factors for employees when considering a job offer. Further, 81% of employees said they would be "more loyal" to their company if it offered flexible schedules or shifts.
Flexibility may offer the work-life balance that many in today's workforce are striving for. By providing greater opportunities for work-life balance, employers may reap the benefits of reduced absenteeism, improved retention, increased productivity, and decreased workplace stress, which can help avoid burnout.
Provide Employees with Access to an Employee Assistance Program
Now is an ideal time to review your employee benefits to make sure you're meeting the needs of your workforce. Especially since, in the current job market, employee benefits can be an important means for recruitment and job retention.
Offering access to an employee assistance program (EAP), for example, can help your employees resolve a variety of issues that contribute to stress, which in turn, may be adversely affecting their work performance and morale. And, while EAPs can be customized to fit the needs of individual businesses, they may also be able to help your business take a more holistic approach to employee wellness, offering tools and resources that support physical well-being, financial well-being, emotional well-being, and community well-being.
This is important at any time, but is particularly so during challenging situations such as a major work disruption or public health emergency. Through employee assistance programs, you can help to mitigate challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic while giving your employees tools to adapt to help them address issues that contribute to stress.
Provide opportunities for training and development
A culture that fosters engagement promotes talent retention — a priority this year for 60% of business leaders* — and boosts employee productivity and loyalty, which can translate into higher customer satisfaction, company reputation, and overall stakeholder value.
Businesses looking for ways to improve worker engagement may want to consider the advantages of implementing an online learning management system LMS) as part of their talent management strategy. Today's workforce is increasingly seeking opportunities to learn on the job and taking the initiative to advance their careers. An LMS can be customized to your company's specific needs, and provide opportunities for learning when it is most convenient for employees. It can also break geography barriers that exist with employees working remotely, and lower the cost of more traditional training programs.
Now is also an opportune time to review your performance management strategy. Consider requiring managers to have regular check-ins with team members — perhaps weekly, or bi-weekly — to better gauge employee satisfaction and work challenges. And, depending on how often your business conducts performance reviews, it may also make sense to transition to a quarterly review schedule. For these reviews, be sure to identify objective criteria for base performance, whether working from home or on-site.
Are you ready for the new era of employee productivity?
The efficiency and output of an individual or team can be affected by a number of factors — including motivation and workload — and can be one of the biggest determining factors to a company’s success. With more employers adopting a remote or hybrid work arrangements than ever before, the future of maintaining or increasing employee productivity for many businesses may lie in adopting flexible scheduling, enhancing technology, and offering targeted benefits to help keep employees engaged.
Meeting the individual needs of each employee to help them remain productive, though, can be a challenge. At Paychex, we offer the technology and HR expertise that can help you build a company culture that gives employees — and your business — the tools needed to succeed in today’s complex work environment.
*Based on a Paychex survey 300 U.S. SMB financial decision-makers at organizations with 50 to 500 employees from May 28-June 26, 2021.