5 Ways Your Employees Are Being Unproductive — and How to Fix It

Productivity is one keystone of your business’s success. It’s a measure of how much your employees are able to accomplish each day, and accordingly, a gauge of the ROI of your workforce. With a high enough ROI, any raw expenditure on human resources will be worth it, as you’ll develop new products and serve customers with enough efficiency to generate revenue in excess of what you’re spending.

But productivity is an elusive area to master; most employees lose productivity in multiple areas every day, compromising your HR budget and throttling your startup’s potential to grow. Unless you’re able to track down and correct these areas of productivity loss, your business’s potential will be at their mercy.

Top Areas of Productivity Loss

What are the most common — and most egregious — offenders responsible for lost productivity?

1. Email:

If you ask a handful of your peers to rank the most egregious productivity offenders, I almost guarantee email won’t make the list.

That’s because we’ve accepted email as an essential part of modern business, and we don’t think about how much we’re emailing or how long we’re spending on it. Each email only takes a few minutes, so what’s the harm?

The harm is that we’re sending hundreds of emails a day, and even a slight delay in our processes or increase in email volume is enough to cost hours of work on a daily basis.


So what’s the solution? One option is to use a tool like Gmail Metrics, a kind of analytics app for email, to investigate how your employees are handling email and take corrective action (like rebalancing workloads or retraining employees on proper emailing standards).

2. Meetings:

Meetings fall into a similar category as email; they’re viewed as essential business functions, so any time they take is often disregarded and swept under the rug. But meetings are especially dangerous for a several reasons and to varying degrees.

Meetings involve multiple people, so any lost productivity is automatically multiplied; they’re often recurring, so the losses compound over time; and it’s hard to enforce consistent meeting rules across an entire organization. It’s estimated that bad meetings cost $37 billion a year. It’s definitely worth taking action. Include only the parties necessary for your meetings, and limit them to 30 minutes — 15 minutes if you can.

When you plan them, have a firm agenda and a stated goal for the meeting. Then, avoid recurring meetings unless they’re truly necessary.

3. Sleep deprivation:

You know that losing sleep can affect productivity, interfering with each employee’s attention span, motivation, and cognitive abilities — but you may not know how much.

According to one study, insomnia can cost businesses about $2,500 per year per employee in lost productivity — and that doesn’t factor in absenteeism. How can you improve employee sleeping habits without instituting napping on the job?

For starters, you can inform your employees about the downsides of sleep deprivation and encourage them to get a full eight hours every night. You can also be more flexible with start times, and you can consider enforcing a policy that prohibits late-night emailing.

4. Tech distractions:

It’s no secret that the marvelous new technologies that allow us significant leaps forward in productivity also take us a few steps back; distractions like social media platforms and personal smartphones steal employees’ attention away from more important tasks. In younger audiences, almost three-quarters of employees spend at least some time every day on tasks that aren’t work-related.

This problem is tricky to solve because some digital interactions are actually a good thing — it gives employees a break from work, exposing them to news that might be relevant to their positions. So rather than block distracting apps altogether, you can monitor productive versus nonproductive performance using an app like Time Doctor, only taking action with the most egregious offenses.

5. Procedural inefficiencies:

Procedural inefficiencies are usually the hardest productivity detractors to pin down. These are problems in your daily workflow that end up wasting time. For example, you might accidentally have two different positions accomplishing the same task. You might have too many checks and balances, adding extra hours to each project that passes through.

Audit your workflows periodically, and try to view them from an unbiased perspective. Are there new tools or automated functions you can integrate to make things easier? Are there areas of redundancy that can be resolved?

These aren’t the only ways employees can lose productivity; they’re just some of the most important. Start optimizing these areas, with gradual and focused changes; then, zoom out to uncover more areas where you can improve productivity.

And ask for employee feedback — your workers’ perspectives will help you more than you realize — and keep inching toward higher productivity. If you’ve implemented changes to boost your productivity and you’re still disappointed with the numbers you’re seeing, take a closer look at your workforce itself.

If you have teammates who lack motivation or feel disconnected from your company’s purpose, it may be time for them to polish their résumés — and they probably won’t have many productive accomplishments to show.

You’ll never reach perfect efficiency, but you can always improve. If you push your team to take ownership of the problem alongside you, you’ll see your organization’s productivity soar– and its potential will no longer be hampered by the inefficiencies you’ve simply learned to live with.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind

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Jeremy Webb

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Jeremy Webb5 Ways Your Employees Are Being Unproductive — and How to Fix It

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