How to boost productivity

Gary Cattermole offers advice on how to boost productivity at a grass roots level.

According to the latest economic outlook report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), labour productivity in the UK remains ‘muted’ and would benefit from further gross fixed investment. There are a number of ways to boost productivity at a foundational level.

  1. Recognise and reward hard work and effort – it’s important to recognise and reward both hard work and effort. Let’s face it, hard work doesn’t always translate into success but if you don’t encourage initiative and effort, you’ll wind up with a workforce that isn’t incentivised to try. Also, don’t forget the benefits of praise – reward doesn’t always have to be financial – praise when it’s due goes a long way.
  2. Pay in line with industry standards – nobody wants to feel they are underpaid for what they do so make sure you know the going rate, and if possible, pay a little bit more to your top (and emerging) talent. Recruitment and training are costly exercises as is the inconsistency that comes with replacing staff – you can help avoid it by paying well and rewarding with bonuses and incentive schemes whenever possible.
  3. Make the working environment comfortable – a workspace with plenty of natural light that can be kept warm in the winter months and cool during the summer will provide an optimal working environment for your staff, which will enable them to work more productively. If they are too hot or too cold, they’ll lose focus and you’ll lose productivity.
  4. Create an engaging working environment – research undertaken over a ten year period by academics at Exeter University that studied the effects of lean workplaces on their occupants (this means devoid of plants, pictures, souvenirs etc) concluded that employees were 15 per cent more productive when ‘lean’ workplaces are filled with just a few houseplants, as employees who actively engage with their surroundings are better workers.
  5. Provide healthy snacks and plenty of water – fresh fruit and water will fuel your workforce – it’s difficult to concentrate when you are hungry or thirsty and by looking after their basic needs, they’ll be more likely to give that little bit more of themselves while at work.
  6. Promote from within – always consider your existing talent before looking elsewhere when recruiting for a position within your business. If you are in touch with your staff; their skills, ambitions and what motivates them, you should know whether you have someone in-house who could perform the role. If you recruit externally you risk putting noses out of joint and when that happens, people vote with their feet. You could also spend hard earned money on recruitment when you didn’t actually need to.
  7. Engage with your staff – make sure your managers are visible to all your staff. Those in positions of authority should be accessible to those they manage – by being engaged with staff in this way, it engenders familiarity, builds rapport and promotes loyalty. People like to feel they matter – whatever their position in the business – so make sure they know their value. 
  8. Keep things ‘fresh’ – offer a great personal development programme from the word go and talented staff are far more likely to stay put. The knowledge that they can develop within a business and achieve their career goals without moving will keep them focused on the business and their work. Of course, you also need to be sure you can pay them what they’re worth when they gain new skills and take on more responsibility. If you don’t, they’ll move on and another business will benefit from your input.
  9. Be consistent – inconsistency builds distrust and that will affect how your staff perform. If you say you will deliver something make sure you do. This could be something as simple as a water fountain for the office or outdoor seating for lunch breaks. By failing to deliver, you will also convey a message to staff that they are not valued – once again, potentially leading to unwanted staff vacancies.
  10. Listen to your employees’ concerns and desires – this relates to employee engagement. Effective engagement demands two-way communication. If a valued member of staff feels unhappy due to childcare pressures, try suggesting flexible working. Similarly, if the journey to work is a huge source of stress, if you can, consider offering a secondment to an office that is closer to their home. By offering solutions that reduce their stress, you could really improve their levels of productivity.
  11. Encourage time-out – make sure your staff take regular breaks from their desks/work stations – if possible provide areas where they can sit and have a coffee or a snack. Regular breaks will enable staff to recharge – just make sure people don’t take the proverbial and see it as an excuse to over socialise! You’ll need to monitor it surreptitiously.  Also, encourage staff to take their full holiday entitlement – a rested workforce will be more productive that one that is ‘burnt out’.
  12. Finally, weed out poor performance – you need to ensure you have a clear and robust grievance policy. Not just in terms of unacceptable behaviour/gross misconduct but also in terms of poor performance. Staff that perform well will only be prepared to ‘carry’ staff who are not pulling their weight for so long before resentment kicks in. Once that happens, the likelihood is you’ll lose the valued employee rather than the one you probably wouldn’t miss. This doesn’t mean you should rule with an iron fist, as that will be counterproductive but make sure you have fair and well understood procedures in place to help underperformers develop and if that doesn’t work, to help move them on.

Debbie Carter

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