How to Improve Employee Productivity Without Micromanaging

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Productivity is one of the most important ingredients for a business’s success. You’re paying your employees a set amount per hour. Therefore, the more productive work they do during those hours, the higher your return on investment (ROI). Unfortunately, many managers and supervisors attempt to improve productivity by closely watching what their employees do. This even means managing on a task-by-task basis. However, this rarely has a net positive result. And, sometimes can actively decrease productivity. Therefore, you want to increase employee productivity without micromanaging.

productivity maze

So, what’s the best way to improve employee results without resorting to micromanagement?

Why Micromanaging Is a Bad Idea

Let’s start by examining why micromanaging is a bad idea. As employees and underlings, we’ve all complained about the annoyance of micromanagement. Yet, what makes it such a poor long-term strategy for productivity?

  • Penny wise, pound foolish. Part of the problem is that micromanagement inherently zooms into a single task or project rather than high-level trends. You’ll be optimizing the way an employee does a single task. This instead of the environment in which they do the task, their mentality toward the work, or a cluster of skills at the same time. Accordingly, if there’s a high-level inefficiency that’s affecting their ability to work, any time you spend optimizing a single task within that category is effectively wasted.
  • Time expenditure. Don’t forget that micromanaging also wastes your valuable time. As a manager, you have more important things to do than monitor the way your employees execute tasks. You should be investing your mental energy and working hours on setting high-level objectives and ensuring the completion of those objectives. Optimizing for productivity is one thing. However, if you spend an hour of your day training someone on something they already know, you’re effectively wasting two hours for a small, short-term productive gain.
  • Resentment and morale. Remember, it costs about 6 to 9 months’ salary to recruit and hire a new candidate. If you lose an employee making $40,000 a year, then you’ll lose $20,000 to $30,000 just finding a replacement.
    Also micromanage too much can propagate employee resentment and lower morale. Also, it can eventually drive up your turnover rates. It doesn’t matter how much time you save by teaching them new strategies if they end up leaving after a few weeks.

Improving Morale

It makes intuitive sense that happier employees are more productive employees. The data also back up this idea. According to research by economists from the University of Warwick, happiness leads to a 12 percent average increase in productivity. Alternatively, unhappiness and dissatisfaction led to a 10 percent reduction in productivity. Accordingly, any strategies you use to boost your team’s morale are invaluable in raising your overall productivity.

  • Cultivate a positive attitude. Attitudes are contagious. If you come into the office in a bad mood, complaining about everything, your employees can’t help but feel a little less happy. However, a smile on your face and an optimistic attitude will turn around even the grumpiest employee. Satisfied, optimistic employees work harder, show less stress, and contribute to a positive environment. Having a positive attitude can also help your employees foster better relationships with their clients. This makes it doubly effective.
  • Allow breaks, vacations, and flexibility. Even the best work environments can be stressful. To relieve that stress and show your employees you care about them, try to accommodate as many breaks and vacations as possible. Also, allow more lenience in day-to-day operations. For example, you could instate flexible hours or remote work arrangements.
  • Celebrate accomplishments. Nothing makes a team feel better than celebrating an accomplishment. When your company experiences success in some way, take your team out for a meal. This has several effects. Your team will appreciate the free food and they’ll feel more invested in their accomplishment. Plus, your team will get the chance to bond with one another in a more relaxed, personal environment. All of these can build morale.

Spotting and Resolving High-Level Issues

Rather than focusing on individual tasks an employee isn’t doing correctly or efficiently, look for broad, high-level issues. If you notice an employee has a problem with a certain category of tasks, then you could help them optimize an approach that leads to recurring improvements in productivity and efficiency. This is much better than a one-time boost. Using a time tracking app and other analytics platforms are ideal.

  • Meetings and scheduling. Meetings are known productivity killers. Each hour spent in a meeting is multiplied by the number of participants. And, some participants never needed to be there in the first place. If you host a one-hour meeting with ten people when you only need five, then you’ll effectively waste five man-hours. Doing that every day adds up to 25 wasted man-hours per week. Get your scheduling under control. Only host meetings that are necessary and keeping your calendar items brief.
  • Email and communications. Though it probably slips beneath your notice, email can be a massive source of wasted productivity. If your workers spend too much time writing and reading, organize their emails poorly, or get wrapped up in long email chains, they could waste their time and that of others. Additionally, the sheer volume of emails means productivity loss increases.
  • Even the best of us get distracted from time to time. However, if your employees are distracted chronically or consistently, it becomes a serious issue. Limiting time on certain sites and introducing restrictions on personal mobile devices can be an effective last resort. First, try talking to employees about their distracted habits.

Extrinsic Motivation

You can choose to improve productivity by giving your employees an external incentive to help motivate them. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Offer bonuses and cash rewards. It may cost a bit up front, but offering monetary and other tangible incentives can help you boost productivity enough to grant you a net positive for your bottom line. For example, if you have a project that needs to be completed quickly, you could offer $100 to the first employee who can tackle it.
  • Stoke competition. You can also establish extrinsic motivation by stoking competition between your employees. For example, you might hold a contest to see who can finalize the most sales in a given period. Oftentimes, you’ll include a monetary reward to make people more excited about the event, but in many cases, bragging rights are a good a prize as any.
  • Put raises and promotions on the line. Your employees work harder when they know there is a reward for doing so. Make sure they feel like merit-based raises, promotions, and other forms of growth within the company are achievable if they perform well enough. The only disadvantage here is that it takes a while to build a reputation for rewarding employees this way.

Intrinsic Motivation

However, it’s often more powerful to encourage intrinsic motivation—in other words, create an environment where your employees are naturally and internally motivated to succeed, rather than being driven by external offers. Intrinsic motivation is more powerful because it’s not reliant on any external variable, but it’s harder to pull off.

  • Select intrinsically motivated candidates. It all starts with choosing the right people for your team. Ideally, every employee you hire will have a passion for their intended role, and a strong connection to your brand. As much as possible, make your employees feel like they belong, and make sure their values align with those of your brand.
  • Allow time for personal projects and objectives. Look for ways to incorporate individual interests into their jobs. For example, allow an employee extra time to build a specific skill set or work on a project.
  • Work with individuals to set custom goals. Goals are a powerful motivational tool for anyone, and they’re even more powerful when they’ve been customized to account for an individual’s personal passion, interests, and current strengths and weaknesses. Work with each employee to come up with short-term and long-term goals that fit them. The better-suited the goals are, the more likely an employee will want to achieve them.

Different Tactics for Different People

No matter what your approach to management is, there are strategies you can use to boost your employees’ productivity—and it’s a good idea to use them. Higher productivity not only means you’ll see a higher ROI for each employee salary on the books, but also means your employees will stay better engaged and more passionate about their role within the company.

There are many options here, so if you find certain individuals unresponsive to some of these techniques, swap in another option and keep experimenting until you find the right motivation. Everyone is different. However, every employee has their own motivations. Find out what the is and leverage that to increase employee productivity without micromanaging.


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Author: Peter Daisyme

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