Work Smarter, Not Harder: Improving Employee Productivity

The CEO of Wayfair and Co-founder Niraj Shah recently came under fire for a year-end message to the company’s employees: “Working long hours, being responsive, blending work and life, is not anything to shy away from,” and stated that he believes his employees should work longer hours.

However, longer hours do not equate to greater productivity. A 2014 study by John Pencavel of Stanford University found that an employee’s productivity declines after a 50-hour work week, and “falls off a cliff” after 50 hours—so much so that someone who worked 70 hours is only as productive as someone who worked 55.

So how can productivity increase in the post-pandemic world, where more people are placing an emphasis on work-life balance and prioritizing their time outside of the office?

Here are several ideas to improve productivity. We encourage you to run through them with your staff:

Set Boundaries.

According to a survey by CareerBuilder, 55% of people say their cell phone or the Internet is the biggest distraction at work, followed closely by gossip (39%) and coworkers dropping by to chat (27%). By encouraging your staff to set clear boundaries such as, where possible, closing their office door or putting up a sign that says “Please Do Not Disturb,” you are much more likely to help them focus.

Stop Multitasking.

People love to say they’re multi-taskers. The truth is, only 2% of the population can do multiple tasks at once with true effectiveness. Most are simply shifting their focus from task to task at a rapid pace, actually leading to a 40% decrease in productivity. Encourage employees to finish one task at a time—and to turn their cell phones face-down.

Allow for Breaks.

A 2011 study out of the University of Illinois found that those who take a small break once an hour feel more energetic, creative, and on-task than those who strive to work straight through. Encourage employees to listen to their Fitbit or set a reminder to move about, even if it’s just standing to stretch, each hour.

Allow for Remote Work.

This is a tough one, and not right for every office. However, even offering the option of remote work as needed can help. A 2014 study by Nicholas Bloom and James Liang found that employees who have the WFH option report a higher job satisfaction, and are about 14% more productive.

Set Clear and Realistic Goals.

The author Neale Donald Walsch uses an example that goes something like this: If you wanted to go to Los Angeles and you lived on the East Coast, you wouldn’t just hop in your car and start driving west. You’d need to plan the route, marking gas stations and rest stops along the way. It’s not enough to say your goal is business success. When employees know their goals, they can prioritize, make informed decisions, and focus on the results.

Stop Unnecessary Meetings.

We have all been in that meeting which should have been an email. Create the agenda for each meeting and stick to it, which gives employees clear expectations for juggling their time and makes them feel as if their time is valued.

Express Your Gratitude and Confidence.

A study by Workhuman and Gallup found that companies which focus on engagement and appreciation see an increase in productivity of 23%. Keep in mind, this is more than just snacks or T-shirts. It’s also about verbal praise and creating an open environment where everyone feels valued. When employees feel like their contributions truly make a difference, they are likely to do more.

The goal is to get the best possible results from the best possible team. In the end, it comes down to two old adages: Allen F. Morgenstern’s “Work smarter, not harder,” and Karen Salmansohn’s “A person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected.b

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