5 Ways To Increase Productivity In The Workplace

Productivity and work life balance are the number one priorities in the world of work right now

The productivity of organisations has always been a point of focus for business and HR leaders. Ultimately, when an organisation improves their people’s productivity, the results lead to individuals working harder, better, smarter and faster.

But why is there so much concern and focus on productivity? The answer lies in economics and the definition of what productivity actually is. Resulting in the answer being down to the fact that productivity measures the output of wherever the input is. Which in workforce terms, is the labour and output of the individuals employed by your organisation. 

The big picture on workforce productivity is that it is ultimately the basis of calculating the economy as a whole. Which means for businesses and HR leaders, the ultimate focus is on how to support workforces within organisations to become more productive. 

Here, we will explore some of the challenges to productivity and five top ways to make improvements to this in your workplace.

The Productivity Gap

The current challenge the UK faces is that it not only has a productivity gap in comparison to its global and European counterparts, but the rate of UK productivity is also at its lowest since 2007. With workers in the UK producing less per hour than those in France, Germany and the United States. As a result, there have been a host of initiatives by the Government to understand, stimulate and uplift productivity to levels that not only compare favourably to other nations, but that also improve the levels of UK productivity overall. 

With this in mind, how can productivity in the workforce be improved? 

It’s worthwhile remembering that for employees, they are desperately seeking out support with work-life balance, emotional and physical wellbeing. Perhaps more so during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic where people are working from home and the lines between work and home have become increasingly blurred. 

Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything

This means that whilst productivity is an important area of focus, balancing this focus against the needs of people is essential also.

For Human Resources this means nurturing a culture and environment that is attuned to the needs being expressed by the workforce, whilst also providing useful information that can be embedded within teams, but also within individuals ways of working.

Productivity Improvement # 1: Promote the Importance of Sleep

Sleep deprivation can have overwhelmingly negative effects on people’s performance, which in turn impacts the workforce and productivity more widely. But the effect that lack of sleep can have on concentration, logical reasoning and working memory can all be problematic when it comes to overall efficacy and wellbeing. 

With the prefrontal cortex of the brain, being particularly vulnerable to a lack of sleep, tasks that demand these cognitive skills, and complex thought are the most impaired when sleep is lacking. 

For HR teams, employee well being and a lack of good sleep, can not only lead to decreased productivity, but also to increases in sickness absence, which is equally detrimental to productivity efforts. 

Consider napping during the day

Yet, perhaps an unknown factor of sleep and how vital it is to employee productivity is that it   only takes one night of sleep deprivation to create big deficits in people’s ability to perform. Therefore it makes sense that HR really focus on communicating this aspect of health and wellbeing as part of any and all productivity programs. 

Seven to nine hours of sleep a night are recommended for adults, which can be challenging to manage for organisations where shift patterns are involved. However the focus on driving home the messaging of the importance of sleep, can add significant benefits to your workplace morale and with it productivity levels too.

Productivity Improvement # 2: Encourage Good Task & Activity Planning

To-do lists are invaluable when it comes to productivity. Even the most senior or seasoned of executives benefit from having a plan to work from for their day. When we’re organised, with clarity of the tasks and activities that lay ahead focus is improved and a great sense of accomplishment is achieved when tasks are ticked off as completed. 

For HR, this means that encouraging team managers and people leaders to really embrace the benefits of encouraging good task and activity planning amongst their teams can pay dividends in productivity but also with well being.   

Research also tells us that multi-tasking, which is often a fall back solution when people have too much on or haven’t been given the necessary time or support to focus on the priorities of their workload and tasks, is actually ineffective. 

What is going on in our brains when we multitask?
What is going on in our brains when we multitask? | Source: Lifehacker

Multitasking can be adopted not only as a means to plough through several different tasks at once, but this can lead to an overall sense of accomplishment and feel good dopamine highs in the brain. 

However according to Zhen Wang, who performed a study on multitasking, found in the research that those who multitask, may feel like they’re being productive, but despite feeling more emotionally satisfied from their work, their productivity is actually diminished.

Yet emotional satisfaction is one thing and productivity quite the other. The issue with multitasking is that whilst it may appear to be efficient and organised from the outside. An employee who looks like they are juggling projects, calls, emails and the latest team initiative can easily have the wow factor. But how much is actually getting done on time, or without being at the expense of the person’s mental health and wellbeing is an important consideration. 

Research insights into multitasking have found that it splits the brain. Which means the brain is actually switching frantically between one task to another, jumping around and at the same time causing the multitasker to be less effective at filtering vital information, less into a workflow and ultimately less productive. 

Therefore it’s vital that HR in conjunction with management teams work closely with individuals to communicate and establish best practices around task and activity planning.

Task & Activity Planning Top Tips

  1. Preparing a to do list of priority tasks & activities the night before, helps focus the mind on what’s priority and eliminate the mid morning scramble to get on top of what needs to be completed that day 
  2. Cut down to do lists, so that they focus on the most important tasks on the list 
  3. Evaluate how many of the important tasks can realistically be accomplished, or make solid progress with ahead of the next day  
  4. Be open to talking to do lists through with a manager or colleague if the lists are increasingly overwhelming or unprogressible each day or week

Productivity Improvement # 3: Reduce Workplace Distractions

To be productive, it’s vital that external noise is reduced effectively. And by noise, it’s not necessarily the external noise of a busy road that may sit outside your workplace or home office window that counts. Or the sound of your coworkers whose discussion about their latest weekend plans is distracting your concentration from that important proposal that may be outstanding – Although finding work arounds to these distractions can also prove to be valuable.   

Reducing the noise, extends to that of the constant churn of distractions that can derail even the most focused of individuals. Instant messenger notifications, slack, Microsoft teams, social media and email notifications are all proven to decrease productivity levels. 

Therefore this is really about HR working to encourage good distraction hygiene and a culture that embraces, encourages and rewards not responding to things straight away. 

Too many organisations, particularly in this era of remote based working, have fallen into the trap of expecting that people are always available and accessible at the flick of a chat request or email. Which in turn can lead to availability presenteeism, bearing similarities to the presenteeism of where individuals are unwell, but still actually at work. 

Given the current prevalence of common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression in the UK, the potential impact that presenteeism may have on productivity is clear

Availability presenteeism is one where workers feel like they must present themselves as being available at all times to just answer that question, or just respond to that latest request, when actually they are working on something that requires attention and focus. 

The follow on from being organised with your plan of activities and to do list, is knowing what to cut out and ignore too. 

Therefore encouraging managers and their teams to manage email to boost their productivity, turn off phone and social notifications, whilst also putting instant messenger chats on mute too, will all lead to a reduction in workplace distractions which in turn will pay dividends in productivity gains.

Productivity Improvement # 4: Champion Exercise Being Taken During the Workday

Whilst many workplaces may currently be operating on a remote or hybrid basis right now. Along with gyms, fitness centres and exercise classes having been closed under COVID-19 restrictions. The benefits that can be gained from physical activity, enhancing brain functions remains the same as ever before. 

Research into exercise, has indicated that when taken during the work day, there is an interplay with workplace performance as a result. The improvement to brain activity alone can lead to improvements in concentration, creativity, faster learning, but also the ability to connect and get along with others. 

These enhanced brain functions combined with the feel good highs that exercise can lead to, result in increased productivity, but also to a more harmonious and collaborative working atmosphere, according to a study by Leeds University on exercise taken during the work day. The study found that 65% of workers who used their workplace gym at lunch, performed far better in the afternoon and had improved concentration and greater interactions with colleagues. 

For HR it makes sense to support workplace initiatives that champion well-being and exercise irrespective of workers who may currently be away from the workplace environment. 

Establishing practices of regular breaks for exercise and time out away from home based desks and computers to build in some sort of highly beneficial physical activity, will add weight to productivity efforts, in addition to upping workplace wellbeing.

Productivity Improvement # 5: Encourage a Culture of Taking Care of Self

Whilst it’s not the role of Human Resources to micromanage how employees and workforces take care of themselves, HR does have a duty of care to support people to do the right things in the workplace, but also in their lifestyles that will aid wellbeing. 

By encouraging a culture of taking care of self, one that truly values the benefits of having a healthy, emotionally stable and thriving workforce, then productivity becomes a natural byproduct of that healthy environmental culture.

Having fun whilst at work, taking regular breaks, being observant of when burnout or exhaustion is creeping in are all vital value pillars to establish in the workplace environment. But additional pillars, such as those mentioned, including getting enough sleep, taking exercise and focusing on priorities are all essential factors of taking care of self. 

HR is empowered to help foster wellbeing at work, promoting this helps prevent workplace stress, whilst creating a positive working environment where individuals and the wider organisation can thrive. 

Research by CIPD highlights that by encouraging a culture of taking care of self, leads to healthy workplaces, which support people to thrive in their work and reach their potential. Therefore by creating an environment that is active in its promotion of wellbeing, self care, contentment and overall happiness, there are benefits to both employees productivity and that of the organisation as a whole. 

Bringing It All Together

Productivity in the workplace isn’t reached without taking steps to evaluate and consider what can be done better? What can be improved upon? What can be removed? It’s the effective consideration of stop, start, continue that can lead to greatly improved ways of working and with it increased productivity. And whilst the tips above aren’t all encompassing, they offer a tremendous starting point on your route to improving the sense of well-being and with it greater workplace productivity, efficiency and output. 


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Written By

Jade Taryn Graham

Jade is the founder & CEO of Inspired Talent.co a people & talent consultancy working with the most innovative early stage companies worldwide. Founder & CCO of Inspired Talent Media Ltd and contributing writer for Sage HR where Jade writes about people, leadership, work/life balance and change.