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5 Factors That Affect Your Employee's Productivity

If the competition is doing more with less, then employee productivity may be the issue. Low-output workers indicate a serious problem within any organization, forcing companies to adapt innovative techniques to increase employee productivity.

A question comes up every year is: does March Madness really drive employers crazy? It all depends on what you believe. The term “lost productivity” is kicked around every year during the NCAA Tournament. Are millions of employees checking in on the NCAA Tournament while checking out of their responsibilities at work? Anything that gets in the way of workers’ ability to produce a quality product or service should concern employers. A recent calculation by consultant John A. Challenger received much media attention when he predicted a productivity meltdown during the NCAA Tournament.

Challenger estimated that March Madness costs employers $3.8 billion or more in lost productivity because workers watch, gab, bet, and read stories about the NCAA Tournament instead of tending to their responsibilities at work. Challenger put the price tag at $260 million for just the first two days. The $3.8 billion estimate is based on a formula of 58 million viewers whose average wage is $18 an hour, watching 13.5 minutes online on each of the 16 business days of the tournament. That’s a lot of madness. But, according to some, so are Challenger’s lost productivity numbers.

“I would say that in most cases, this is over blown by the media,” said John Henning, Director of a California-based Business Development Group. “I think the actual percentage of professional workers that spend a significant amount of time during their workday paying attention to the Tournament is minimal.” Henning has plenty of company when it comes to detractors. Slate magazine calls Challenger’s lost productivity numbers, “junk economics,” that wasted time is built into every workday, and that “NCAA tourney fans merely reallocate to the games the time they ordinarily waste elsewhere.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Carl Bialik and Forbes writer Hannah Clark have also challenged Challenger, calling the numbers impacting employee productivity skewed and far-fetched. Clark writes that, “most games are broadcast online for free. That’s one reason why consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated March Madness will cost $3.8 billion in lost productivity. But that estimate should be taken with a boulder of salt.”

Whatever the case, the debate over employee productivity costs and March Madness will likely continue to rage since the NCAA Tournament and the workplace will continue to mesh. Nevertheless, what workers do at work remains a central part of any company’s successful business plan.

  1. Attitude Is Everything: Happy employees are productive employees. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a consulting firm to figure that one out. Negative attitudes can torpedo employee productivity much faster than nonstop basketball being streamed over the Web. “An employee with a positive attitude usually enjoys the work that they do and feels empowered and recognized for their contributions,” said Henning. “An employee that is complacent and does not really enjoy their work, but is simply there for a paycheck usually does not produce at a high level, develops a bad attitude, and generally drags a team down.”
  2. Boss Is the Barrier: How can you improve employee productivity when the boss stinks? A recent poll found that, among other things, an employee’s productivity is determined by their relationship with their immediate supervisor. When the bad boss fails to keep promises, never gives credit when due, makes negative comments, or blames others for their mistakes, the productivity level of their employees is significantly impacted. “A poor supervisor is definitely the No. 1 factor that causes low productivity,” said Barry L. Brown, President of a Florida-based consulting group. “It’s been my experience that a good supervisor will motivate, inspire, encourage and reward good performance. Poor management , of course, is just the opposite, only in multiples. Employees who do not have a direct connection with the company begin to lose all the reasons for wanting to do that little bit extra and take the additional time to make something right.”
  3. Productivity: In Sickness and in Health: Health concerns, naturally, are a big drain on an employee’s ability to be productive, and companies know it. At a recent SHRM Conference and Exposition in Washington, D.C., a survey showed that 85 percent of U.S. employers said they were interested in services to increase employee productivity, minimize absences, and enhance the health of their employees. Estimates show that 18 to 20 million American adults age 19 to 64 are not working due to a disability or chronic disease, or are not working because of health reasons. Roughly 69 million workers reported missing days due to illness last year, for a total of 407 million days of lost time at work.

Along these same lines, nearly 40 percent of U.S. workers experience fatigue, according to a study in the “Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.” Researchers noted that the effects of fatigue, most related to a wide range of physical and mental health problems, on health-related lost productive time is not just absenteeism, but also days the employee is at work and is performing at less than full capacity because of health reasons. For U.S. employers, fatigue carries overall estimated costs of more than $136 billion per year in health-related lost productivity, $101 billion more than for workers without fatigue. Eighty-four percent of the costs are related to reduced performance while at work, rather than absences. 4. It’s the Tech Tools, Stupid: All the feel-good, psychological methods of improving employee productivity are great, but they’re useless without the right tools. And the right tools mean the right technology. For an employee to be efficient and productive in today’s job environment means equipping employees with the right gear. Companies that don’t upgrade or ignore the necessity for tech tools like PCs, cell phones, and other 21st century tools, run the risk of diminished employee productivity. Intel, the world’s largest semi-conductor maker, found that wireless notebook PC users increased their productivity by 100 hours per year. They studied the work habits and productivity of more than 100 Intel employees who were upgraded to wireless notebooks and found a gain of more than two hours per week, more than paying for the cost of the upgrades in the first year. They also found that when workers were able to control more of their time, that productivity increased as well. 5. Downsizing and Outsourcing Morale: Ever vigilant of saving a buck and satisfying Wall Street, corporate America has turned to cutting corners by downsizing and outsourcing. Simply put, downsizing expensive labor while outsourcing a cheaper version. For employees remaining in those offices and factories, their morale and motivation can take a big hit. Translation: Will the moves to save money be contradicted by a loss in productivity from disgruntled employees? In most cases, employers fail to recognize that if they downsize or outsource, they need to provide support to the employees that remain. The psychological impact on employees can directly impact productivity, forcing many to focus on their second careers instead of the job at hand.

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