Reasons for Low Productivity

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If you're paying for someone to work, you want to make sure that person is working to their fullest potential, but research shows that the average employee is only working at 60 percent of his total productivity level. The reason for low productivity will often vary by employee, but if your entire workforce is being unproductive, then it could be a company-wide problem that needs to be addressed.

Managerial Reasons for Low Productivity

A bad manager will often discourage employees rather than motivate them and research shows that 80 percent of all employees have experienced bad management at some point or another. If you've fallen in that group before then you know that sometimes you want to do all you can to avoid work just because you hate your boss so much. That could be because the manager belittled you, expected too much, insisted you do things in a roundabout way for no reason, took credit for all your work, didn't listen to you, micromanaged you or did any other number of managerial no-nos.

If you are working on identifying the causes of low productivity among a particular department in your company that is consistently falling behind on deadlines and doing subpar work, you might want to look at the team's manager rather than the team themselves. Try to support your employees, making them feel like they are part of the team and that their contributions and ideas truly matter to the whole company and you might just see your employee's productivity turn around.

It's worth noting that lack of acknowledgment is consistently rated as one of the most de-motivating things employees encounter in the workplace. It is critical that workers feel their contributions are appreciated and when they go above and beyond, this needs to be shared with others and celebrated.

Overly High Expectations

While employers would ideally like employees to put in 100 percent of their efforts 100 percent of the time, the reality is that no one can give their all non-stop. Additionally, there's no such thing as literally giving 110 percent, so you want to save your employee's full productivity for when you really need to make a big push – like before a major project is due.

Companies that try to push their employees to maximum productivity all the time (and expect yet more of them come push time) are likely to find their employees constantly burning out and often when they're most needed. Instead, try to encourage your employees to master their work/life balance and stress levels so they can maintain somewhere around an 80 to 90 percent productivity level and give you that extra little boost of productivity when the company really needs them.

Employees who feel overly stressed lose concentration, are easily distracted and are unable to complete their tasks properly and on time. If you know stress is one of the major causes of low productivity in your industry, but you know that your industry is always going to be high pressure, then consider doing other things to manage employee stress. You might offer amenities like an onsite gym, catered employee lunches, weekly massage services, onsite childcare or other benefits to help keep employees feeling as calm and put together as possible in an otherwise difficult work environment.

Communication Break Downs

Poor communication causes a multitude of problems in business, including reduced productivity. Good communication isn't just something employees need to master, but also something managers and even business owners need to work on. It also doesn't just mean sharing information with other people, but also listening when other people share information with you.

Employees need to feel they have the opportunity to share useful feedback and concerns about their managers, daily workload, company policies and more in order to feel that they are an appreciated part of the company. You never know, an employee might have a brilliant idea that can increase productivity company-wide.

Similarly, you shouldn't try to keep things under wraps unnecessarily, especially in cases where rumors and disharmony are likely to spread quickly. For example, if there's a bad recession going on, don't just pretend everything's going fine until you start laying people off – let your team know that the business is struggling and what you're doing to help turn things around so you can avoid layoffs. This will make people feel like they can do something to help the company and protect their jobs rather than leaving them feeling helpless.

Too Many Emails

Most people spend their mornings sorting through their inbox before they even dive into their actual work. In fact, the average employee spends 11 hours a week (around 28 percent of their time at work) doing nothing but checking emails. That's why it can pay to try to reduce unnecessary emails.

There are a number of ways to cut down the wasted time spent on emails. You could ask employees to check personal emails on their work breaks, discourage CCing people who aren't directly involved in a conversation or give everyone two email addresses, one for important messages and another for those that are low priority. Alternatively, you could also urge that necessary company messages be passed along via instant messenger, in-person communication or text, leaving unnecessary emails to be checked during downtime.

Too Many Meetings

Similarly, while meetings are important to help ensure your whole team is on the same page while working on a project and to discuss ideas and solutions that could help improve things, many meetings are nothing more than useless wastes of time. We've all walked out of an hour-long meeting and thought, "I could have done so many more important things with that time." Even important meetings often devolve into unrelated and unhelpful discussions.

This is why meetings should be organized only when truly necessary and organizers need to remain dedicated to keeping meetings on-track and concise. Also, only those who are directly involved with the topic being discussed need to attend the meeting.

Alternatively, some companies find daily "stand up meetings" a productive way to start the day. These involve the department heads quickly discussing what their team is doing for the day and then allowing individual employees an opportunity to add notes or suggestions if necessary. This keeps upper management informed of what's going on, makes sure the staff knows that they're all on the same page and allows employees a chance to speak up if they have something worth adding.

Employee and Managerial Misbehavior

It's not a comfortable topic to discuss, but if employees are feeling abused or harassed, they're going to start feeling unhappy, withdrawn and unable to (or unwilling to) do their work to the best of their ability. It doesn't matter if the inappropriate behavior is sexual, offensive, discriminatory, offensive or even just rude (like someone spreading nasty rumors), these can make the victim feel like they are no longer part of a team and that they have no reason to contribute to the team. Depending on the severity of the behavior, such abuse or harassment may even cause the victim to lack sleep or become depressed, which will not only reduce productivity but have serious repercussions in their lives.

Even more innocent rule-breaking on the part of some employees, like frequent tardiness or eating someone else's lunch out of the company refrigerator, can discourage other employees who feel upset that while they follow the rules, someone else gets away with breaking them on a regular basis. This can leave them feeling discouraged and no longer wanting to contribute to a company that allows these kinds of behavior.

For these reasons, it is important to ensure employees feel they have a safe, comfortable place to share complaints or concerns about the behavior of other workers, including their managers. It is also critical you fairly and consistently discipline those who do not follow the company's rules.