It’s a simple equation—when employees are not productive, business suffers. Thanks to a new interest in the psychology of employees, along with an increase in relevant studies to that effect, employers have started to see their efforts to enhance productivity bear fruit.
An employee’s working day is no longer a static, 9-to-5 window. Many workers arrive before dawn and leave after dark, some because it’s company policy, some because they think they should, and many because they want to—to make a good impression on the boss, to catch up on work, or because they are intrinsically motivated. Getting more hours out of an employee may seem like a good thing, but often it’s not—because the quality of that work can suffer accordingly. The human body can only take so much, and companies lost an average of nearly $2,000 per employee in 2009 due to fatigue, insomnia and other sleep-related issues. The solution? Moderate those hours, particularly for ambitious types who are especially keen to hit the wall. It’s not about more hours, it’s about better hours.
Take a Break
With this in mind, it’s not just important to set boundaries on arrival and departure from the office, but also ensure workers are getting the breaks they need. The classic coffee break is a seemingly-frivolous recess that has actually been shown to pay huge dividends in productivity down the line. Coffee breaks allow colleagues to bond, which makes a huge difference in a stressful work environment. The psychology journal Symbolic Interaction conducted a study that observed groups of Danish employees at a company that had recently undergone a large-scale merger. When the coffee break arrived, workers gathered to bond over a shared negative experience, which had a “depressurizing” coping effect. When the company then eliminated the 15-minute break, workers began gathering spontaneously. Noticing this, the company wisely allowed the impromptu meetings to continue. The researchers concluded that “coffee breaks have important social, and potentially monetary, value for organizations.” A similar study of office coffee breaks conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that “social interaction was one of the main things that predicts productivity." An emotionally and psychologically healthy employee produces better quality work, and employers are wise to encourage (and perhaps coordinate) the breaks.
Raise (Or Lower) The Technological Plane
Employees are not created equal, thanks in part to one huge factor—age. The Millennial, who now comprises the largest segment of the workforce, was born into a digital age and likely prefers technology to any other approach; a Gen-X worker is likely comfortable in both analog and digital domains; and the Baby Boomer, who alone can offer that indispensable blend of wisdom and experience, may yet struggle to keep up with the latest software update on their PC. Companies need a multifaceted approach to the technological side in order to coax maximum productivity from their diverse group of employees.
It might seem like a lazy man’s game, but telecommuting actually works in a company’s favor: employees were 13% more productive when the office allowed them to work from home. Cutting out commuting time is certainly a factor, along with those “special” situations where a worker may be too ill to come into the office in the morning, but still manages to crank out a few hours from her home computer that afternoon after starting to feel a bit better.
Office employees are always two steps away from feeling like corporate drones. The solution? Show them they’re not: take the team out for a meal (lunch, dinner, or happy hour), send a handwritten note, drop a coffee by their desk. Nobody appreciates the personal touch like those who are under the authority of others—it’s a motivating and inspiring strategy that costs next to nothing while making them feel important and valued.