How Productive Should You Expect Employees to Be?

Have you ever walked into the workplace or peeked out your office door and realized that only a few people were productive? Some are sipping on coffee in the break room or chatting away at their co-worker’s desks. It’s important to understand that socializing or taking small breaks throughout the day is a natural occurrence. It becomes a problem when there is low productivity and deadlines aren’t being met.

When managing a team, I’ve come to understand that I directly impact employee productivity, which is the key deliverable of my role as a manager. How important is productivity to your bottom line? How productive should you expect employees to be?

Research suggests that the average worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes in an eight-hour day. Imagine that—only three hours of productivity a day! The average American works 8.8 hours every day, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As a manager, a lack of productivity in the workplace can be quite frustrating, particularly when you have deadlines to meet. 

I like to create a great working environment for my team. Still, I remember a particular project with short deadlines where my team did not feel particularly productive and did not pull it together. I found myself annoyed and had to instill a sense of urgency to get the work done and actively manage them to meet the deadlines.

How Productive Should You Expect Employees to Be?

To understand the importance of employee productivity, we need to understand what employee productivity means – that your team is effective and efficient and use their work hours smartly to produce more high-quality results in a shorter space of time. Being productive is not simply about “getting stuff done.” It’s about making a meaningful contribution to delivering on business goals.

Some teams get things done effortlessly and efficiently, while others struggle to meet deadlines. The truth is that I set the expectations and control how productive employees are – it’s in my hands.

Should we make our teams work 16 hours non-stop and aim for maximum productivity? Of course not. It is essential to find a happy medium between employee satisfaction and productivity. What is more important is that you find a sweet spot between the two. 

This sweet spot will vary from one employee to the next because they may have different mental energy available. If an employee is taking a coffee break that is not scheduled break times, compromise. But if they are taking breaks every 30 minutes, a productivity meeting is in order.

You don’t want to be “that” manager and count every second your team members are wasting so that you can use it against them during a performance review. Think about it. Are you 100% productive all the time?

What should your productivity expectations be?

Everyone works differently and at various paces, so you’ll need to figure out the sweet spot of productivity for your team. For my employees and me, a productive day consists of about 5 to 6 hours maximum. This is perfect for an average business that doesn’t have many high mental energy tasks. However, if your team requires a lot of creativity and/or focus, such as programming or writing, a productive day can be between 3 and 4 hours.

The key concept is the limiting factor, which is mental energy. The more your employees need to use mental effort, the fewer hours they can work every day. You want your employees to avoid burnout but be productive to their maximum.

I have found that there will be days that employees will exceed expectations and are productive for most of the day, and they hit target after target. But then there are days when everyone is ready to take a nap in the break room.

What do you do if you find employees slacking?

No owner or manager wants to see employees slacking. It can be a frustrating experience, but there are some ways you can increase your productivity when employees begin to slack.

  • Check-ins: The main reason your employees are slacking is because of boredom. How can they be bored because everyone has a job to do? These employees are secretly some of the best! They either don’t have enough work to do, or they aren’t challenged enough. Check-in with these employees and find the source of their lack of productivity.
  • Set clear expectations: Chatting to co-workers about non-work-related topics can’t be avoided. If you set the expectations from the start, your staff will know what you want from them during the workday.
  • Delegate the day: Employees don’t like to work in a heavily controlled environment, but it is essential to assign responsibilities and tasks at the start of each day. When everyone knows what to do when they sit in their workspace, they avoid meaningless tasks.
  • Accountability: Hold your employees accountable. You don’t need to track every minute of their workday because it can heighten tension, but you can hold them accountable for their deliverables.

I need to find a constant balance between keeping employees motivated and managing them effectively to ensure I’m increasing productivity while steering away from micro-managing them.

In the early part of my career as a manager, I would set team expectations based on what I expected. This led to me feeling annoyed and frustrated with my team for lack of productivity and constantly being behind. I felt like, no matter what I did, they couldn’t keep pace. I could see their potential, but I felt frustrated because I didn’t know how to help them achieve it.

I soon learned that expecting my team to deliver on expectations I set for myself was unfair. Why? Well, we’re all different – we think differently and have different ways of working, and we each have different strengths. It is my job to tap into each employee’s strength and bring the best out of them, and in doing so, create a more productive team.

We live in a time where remote working is becoming the norm, and a work-life blend is more achievable. Setting realistic expectations for your team based on what the business needs are, coupled with your team’s strengths, will help increase productivity in the workplace.

Why Is It Important for Employees To Be Productive?

The importance of employee productivity can get seen in the impact on a company’s revenue. A company employs us to be productive and deliver work that can increase our company’s revenue.

Productive employees are the key to this and may, in turn, get rewarded by the company through incentives. Research shows that productive employees also impact the happiness of our customers, as they will provide a higher level of customer service than employees with lower productivity.

Of course, the more productive your team is, the better you are as a manager. 

What Causes Employees to Be Less Productive?

There are a few factors that contribute to the low productivity of employees:

  • Multi-tasking because there is no clear direction
  • Stress in the workplace
  • A lack of a sense of belonging
  • Not being recognized for good work
  • Unhealthy workplace behavior
  • An ineffective company structure
  • Death by meetings
  • Improperly managed or not supervised correctly
  • Burnout
  • Employees are affected by personal problems

I have found that, when dealing with teams who were experiencing a slump in productivity, by tackling just a few of the above factors, I was able to make a measurable impact on productivity.

How To Increase Productivity In The Workplace

If you’re unable to measure productivity in the workplace, you cannot improve or increase it. Would you agree?

  • When I put together a team of employees, I look for people who can:
  • Deliver measurable results that prove an increase in productivity
  • Work in open collaboration with each other and other stakeholders
  • Take instinctive initiative to bypass obstacles and get the job done
  • Show the ability to share the truth about the challenges they face and suggest ways to alleviate them
  • Display enthusiasm for the work that we do
  • Show a desire to learn and grow

Looking back at my experience, I recognize that we’re likely to miss the mark without understanding what being productive looks like. So I’ve outlined a few points that employees need to meet to be productive:

  • Work through a reasonable quantity of tasks by not focusing too much time on one thing and meeting deadlines.
  • Do good quality work, which the results can measure and meet or exceed your expectations.
  • They prioritize and don’t waste time on things that are not important, so time and effort get used efficiently.

Understanding what causes employees to be less productive can help us tackle those areas and increase productivity in the workplace. You can do this by:

  • Giving your employees SMART goals and targets, so they have less need to multi-task and can focus on the job at hand
  • Encourage your employees to care for their mental health. Stress is a killer. We all deal with daily stress, but it’s essential to manage it.
  • Create an environment where employees feel a sense of belonging; they’ll feel invested and are likely to be more productive.
  • Recognize the good work your employees do. A little recognition will go a long way to discretionary effort.
  • Eradicate unhealthy behaviors from your workplace by setting clear examples of what is acceptable.
  • Structure your team in a way that you are getting the best out of each of your employees
  • Ask yourself, does this need to be a meeting, or can we resolve this with a simple chat and a call to action? Meetings for the sake of meetings will eat up your day.
  • Communicate your expectations to your employees clearly, so they understand what is required of them to be more productive.
  • Watch your team for signs of burnout. An efficient and productive team can sometimes push themselves too hard.

The Bottom Line

We’re operating in an environment where human contact remains “taboo,” so we as managers have to be productive and find alternative ways to increase employee productivity to ensure we’re running a sustainable business.

When putting together a team, I recognize that while skills can get taught, attitude and enthusiasm are intrinsic. I need to hire the right people who will positively impact our customers through their productivity.

A key end-product of employee productivity is its impact on our customers. We strive to delight our customers, and happy, productive employees make for more satisfied customers who want to spend their hard-earned salaries with us, adding to healthier company revenue.

Upwork statistics estimate that 1 in 4 Americans will work remotely through 2021. That is over 26% of the American workforce. We’d be remiss in our roles as managers if we didn’t consider how remote working and offering our employees a better work-life balance can increase productivity in the workplace

Learn how you can lead your team the right way!

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