Improving Staff Productivity

In our article on Motivating Employees we talked about the various theories of motivation and intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.  Studies have shown that a high level of motivation leads to increased productivity, but how does this work in practice?

Here are some ideas and thoughts about satisfying the extrinsic factors and maximising the intrinsic factors, both of which are likely to result in increased productivity.

The extrinsic factors are those which do not lead automatically to increased motivation, but the lack or poor handling of these factors by the organisation are both demoralising and demotivating. The resulting demoralised and demotivated employees do not produce their best work (in fact, they often spend what should be work time obsessing on their dissatisfaction with these issues), which impacts negatively on their productivity levels.

A quick reminder of what these extrinsic factors are:  Pay and benefits; workplace policies and rules; working conditions; interpersonal relationships; supervision, including management and leadership.


What Can an Organisation Do to Meet These Extrinsic Factors?

In terms of salary, it’s important to decide where the organisation wants to place itself in relation to its market, in order to attract the most suitable candidates.  The organisation that wants the best candidates will be prepared to pay top rates.  Top talent is always keenly sought after and will be attracted by a good salary, but other benefit factors will also be important, such as pension, holidays, sick pay and other flexible benefits.  But provided an organisation is fair and reasonably competitive, then salary should not become a negative issue.  Of course, in the public sector where pay is tightly controlled there’s little flexibility, but staff tend to join such organisation because of vocation, knowing that their pay will never be at the ‘top end’.  However, all organisations, both public and private should always be on guard against being perceived as a poor payer.  Where the organisation does have control over its pay awards, a reputation of being a low payer will inevitably lead to lower recruitment pools and high turnover.

Comfortable working conditions can be achieved with the right lighting, comfortable seating, ambient temperature (you can’t satisfy everybody all of the time, but you can get close) and a low level of noise. The German Association of Engineers found that 70 decibels is thought to be the acceptable level for carrying out basic transactional work, but no more than 50 decibels for more intellectual complex work that requires creative thinking and problem solving.

It’s worth investing time in consulting with employees on the content of policies and procedures.  Even if it’s not possible to accept all ideas and suggestions, this can be explained and the act of involving people shows a willingness to listen.  Policies and procedures should reflect the culture and values of the organisation.

The issues of interpersonal relationships and leadership/management, whilst not specifically part of a job role, nevertheless play a critical role in ensuring that the intrinsic motivators must be led by leaders and managers.


What Can an Organisation Do to Meet These Intrinsic Factors?

Intrinsic motivators include recognition, growth, responsibility, interesting work and appreciation.  To meet these needs leaders and managers must take time to get to know their staff on a one-to-one level.  Everyone is different and understanding people holistically will go a long way to ensuring that goals are set and demands made can be achieved in the context of an individual’s whole life.  Work Life balance is an important factor in understanding what motivates and what can inadvertently cause serious stress.

Recognition has always topped lists of what people want in their daily working life. The principle of recognition is as important as the action.  If someone has put in long hours and made personal sacrifices and this isn’t acknowledged, they are unlikely to do it again willingly.

Recognition isn’t just a pat on the back.  It could, of course, just be a well-timed ‘thank you’, or an email or a written note.  It’s up to the manager knowing their team members well enough to distinguish if this should be public or private, informal or formal.  For an organisation to be seen to recognise an individual for their work is motivating for the whole workforce.

Appreciation needn’t just come in the form of monetary reward.  A one-off bonus can be motivating, but it can also be demotivating if the employee doesn’t feel that it’s commensurate with the effort involved.  Rewards can be recognised by public recognition in formal programmes.  In organisations that are innovative, achievement programmes can be fun and can drive the team as well as individual performance. For example, a Reward Breakfast, where achievements can be celebrated but where staff can nominate each other for something well done but not seen by the Manager. The caveat – this must be in line with the organisation’s and the staff’s culture.  People must feel comfortable with such events.  The ‘British’ way of being a little bit tongue-in-cheek will make these events more enjoyable and something less cringe-worthy, which should of course be avoided at all costs.

There are staff who don’t want more responsibility or job growth. However, this doesn’t mean that they have nothing to give.  Often, they are highly skilled at what they do, and the most suitable recognition is to use those skills to develop others.  Offering the opportunity to give some training to new staff, for example during induction, or acting as a mentor, is a great way to have important skills not only kept within the organisation but passed on.

For people who strive to improve continuously, the opportunity to grow and develop in their role is the most motivating factor.  Once again, understanding what makes individuals want to grow and develop will help managers to align individual aspirations to Company goals.

Opportunity can be given in many ways, for example, more autonomy given to those who do not respond well to micro-management; access to areas of the organisation that fit well with the person’s role to understand a wider aspect (this can improve an understanding of ‘why’ as well as ‘what’); give some supervisory opportunity for those who haven’t previously had this.  It goes without saying that support and encouragement is vital, as well as training for new skills, especially for a supervisory role. Training is motivating, not just for the job being done, but as recognition that the person is seen as a talent to be developed for the long term.

The best thing about considering how to motivate staff to increase productivity is that more often than not it is flexible, costing little not nothing, and when used positively and effectively is certain to achieve results.