Unhappy workers are unproductive workers. Boost productivity in your business in 7 simple steps

7-Steps-to-boost-productivity-Blog-Unhappy-Worker-1200x700Productivity is down. Skills shortages are up. Staff are in-demand, but according to some sources they’re having to do much less to keep their jobs. The skill shortage is so rife that many sectors are having to explore hikes in salary to attract and retain top talent. Great news for the employees of the world – but not so great for employers who are potentially paying more to get less output. Owch!

Getting your staff motivated, and subsequently more productive, is no mean feat. In fact, according to the Financial Times:

“Productivity is no higher now than it was just before the 2008 financial crisis, in stark contrast to the average annual growth of 2.1 per cent recorded during the decade before the crash. Had the pre-crisis trend persisted, productivity would now be 20 per cent higher.”

So we’re 20% lower in productivity than we should be. Eeeeeek!

Not ideal for many SMEs struggling to grow, especially when marginal bottom line profits can be hugely affected by things like staff turnover, disengaged employees, inability to recruit top talent or indeed, by low staff productivity.

Why are we all doing less than before?

There are many theories being bandied around to explain why business productivity in the UK is so much lower than it should be. Don’t worry, we’ve done the research for you here and collated some of the key possible explanations:

  1. Companies have invested too little: Ahhh yes, I think this is being joyfully referred to as ‘digital transformation’ these days. The argument is that many businesses haven’t put enough of their financials behind giving their employees the right tools for the job, such as machines and technology. So they can’t do as much as they used to as infrastructure outside the business evolves but their working circumstances do not.
  2. What we define as ‘productivity’ is wrong: Apparently because productivity is measured using GDP and hours of work, it’s much harder to measure now than it was before the digital revolution, when manual workers were much more common. Hmmm, we’re not sure about this one…
  3. Low interest rates have allowed ‘zombie companies’ to remain open for business: RUNNNN AWAY! IT’S A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE!! OK, it’s not, but there’s some that believe low interest rates have allowed stagnant companies to remain open for business, rather than collapse if interest rates were higher. These zombie companies arguably negatively contribute to the nation’s overall productivity; these businesses shouldn’t even exist anymore according to this theory.
  4. Unproductive workers have been retained: Apparently, unlike previous recessions, companies did not make mass redundancies when the 2008 crash hit. These staff have continued to be unproductive, leading to wider productivity issues over time.
  5. Low levels of job satisfaction: Since the crash of 2008 there has been a culture of austerity and wages have run flat. This creates unhappy workers and there is convincing evidence that employee job satisfaction has a direct influence on individual and organisational productivity. Unhappy workers are unproductive workers.[1]

We actually think that all five of those could be contributors to why your staff aren’t working as hard as they could (or indeed should). Clearly – there could be a lot of reasons why your workforce is less productive than it should be – but to us, the one that makes the most sense is the last one ‘low levels of job satisfaction’.

Could your staff be disconnected from their job, unhappy and therefore ambivalent towards their day-to-day professional undertakings? Is a lack of job satisfaction a potential contributor to overall disengaged employees, and subsequently having a detrimental impact on overall productivity within your workforce? And if so, what on earth can you do to fix this huge problem?


Stop low productivity dead in its tracks

Here are some core ideas that can help you get staff more satisfied at work, and therefore start enabling and promoting a more productive working environment.

  1. Provide tech that allows them to do their job properly

We’ve all been there. You have great ideas, inspired ideas. A notion of epic proportions. But then the bad news comes – you can’t execute any of it because your business is still running on ancient computers which operate on Windows Vista. You still have a Blackberry and Office 2007. You’ve never even heard of Slack.

A bit hyperbolic – I know – but there really is nothing worse than having ideas you can’t execute. Your employees are ideas machines, just waiting to be nurtured; nothing breeds apathy in them quicker than a great idea completely quashed by a lack of available technology solutions.

Want your staff to be more engaged and more productive? Give them tools that allow them to be just that. You can’t expect great results from them if there is a complete disconnect between the experience they are having outside of work to inside work. Tech and software that helps them do their job better, more quickly and with improved results will not only get them more excited about the job that they are doing, it will inevitably have an effect on morale as success becomes prevalent.

Give them what they need and watch them flourish.

  1. Give them a voice (and listen to it!)

How do you expect to do point 1 if you don’t know what your staff even want or need? Think about it – do your employees have any real way to be heard, or is most of your information tickled upwards through leadership teams?

Ever heard of Chinese whispers? Yeah – be wary of getting information when it’s not from the horse’s mouth – it can have a funny way of changing. Make sure you have outlets for your staff to share their ideas and opportunities for the business to change. They’re your boots on the ground, the lifeblood of your business. And they need a soapbox.

Consider regular employee surveys (which is great for benchmarking), regular “all hands” meetings and any opportunity to get them included, involved and vocal. This will fulfill their need to feel heard and will inevitably give you some great ideas to help drive your business forward.

  1. Provide opportunities for growth and development

Stagnation is the best friend of low productivity. When your staff aren’t being challenged, inspired and encouraged to learn and progress, they get bored and apathetic. They suddenly realise they can do their work in 50% of the time and spend the remainder on Words With Friends. They stop caring about the job they do and become completely disconnected from the organisation.


Yes – your staff actually want opportunities to develop themselves. No – they don’t want to do it with boring, slide-based elearning. We’re not just talking about engaging elearning here (although we can definitely help you with that). We’re talking about developing future leaders through management programmes, having clear succession plans in place and giving employees clear visibility over where they can progress and grow. Give them chances to re-train, develop and continue to engage with a business that cares and gives to them!

Bonus points if you consider offering them the ability to acquire new skills that help them be better, more productive humans both in and out of work.

  1. Empower and encourage – and kill off micromanagement

When you read Glassdoor reviews (only me doing that in my spare time is it? Mmmmk), never has an employee said: “I only wish I had been micromanaged more.” In fact – it’s often cited as a huge negative in reviews, crippling and frustrating staff with the all too common, death cycle of despair. ‘What’s that’, you ask? Let me explain:

  • Managers don’t trust employees, so they lurk. They involve themselves in everything.
  • Employees get nervous or frustrated at a lack of trust and ownership, and therefore perform poorly.
  • So therefore, managers continue to mistrust employees and micromanage. And lurk more.

It’s a continuous, unproductive loop and it’s stymieing your staff’s ability to be happy and feel useful within the business. It’s true that most people are strongly motivated by autonomy – so put energy and time into empowering your employees and giving them plenty of opportunities to step up and shine.

Learn how to let go (no Frozen songs please) and allow your employees the trust they deserve to get the job done. This will help them become more confident, and by giving them more ownership they begin to care more about their job. It’s a no brainer.

  1. Communicate clearly and manage expectations

Bad news – this goes beyond your monthly staff newsletter which includes new joiners, the fact that the 3rd floor toilets are fixed and that all staff now need a key fob to enter the building. That comms may be important, but it’s not really what we’re talking about when trying to foster and breed positive energy and productivity in your business.

We’re talking more about managing your employees’ expectations and clearly setting out yours. This means including them in the business strategy and goals and sharing future plans with them too. Looping them in with ‘business secrets’ helps them feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves and can breed all sorts of confidence and engagement.

Get them involved in other departments, encourage secondments and close ties with other parts of the company. Make sure you do what you say you’re going to and deliver on promises to help build trust with your employees. Ultimately – want them to buy into the business? Then they need to feel like they’re a part of it.

  1. Create a culture of self-care and ownership

What does your company culture look like? Are staff berated if they arrive 5 minutes late, but are expected to stay later when work crops up? Would your employees feel comfortable taking a day to support their mental health, should it be needed?

By creating a culture of self-care in your business, you really SHOW your employees that you care about them. That means doing all the things necessary to foster a healthy company culture including:

  • Listening to employees and giving them a voice
  • Offering constructive and actionable feedback
  • Giving employees challenging, meaningful work that they can own
  • Establishing clear parameters for success and how to get there
  • Support them with their needs and requirements
  • Treat them like human beings. Seriously.

Your staff are people, with feelings, hearts, emotions and lives outside of your four walls. I know you know this – but sometimes it feels that some companies lose sight of that critical fact. By creating a culture of self-care you drive interaction between your business and your employees, making them feel more valued and connected over time.

  1. Celebrate successes, often

Sometimes, even when a business is doing well the efforts of their staff go completely unrecognised. Even worse, their efforts are maybe only acknowledged when they make a mistake (however tiny).

This is a sure-fire way to create unhappy, disgruntled staff = unproductive employees. Make sure you are encouraging your leadership team to recognise and (if budgets allow) reward staff who go the extra mile or accomplish. This will foster some healthy competition and get employees working harder to, well, errr…work harder.

It also has the brilliant effect of positively reinforcing your employees, which is much healthier than only recognising and acknowledging their errors and mistakes.

So that’s it. Seven steps to a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. And yes, productivity isn’t the only measurement of success in your business, but it should definitely be a key contributor. Remember:

“Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.” – Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist

Want to find out a bit more about how to create happier, more engaged employees through training? We offer over 2,500 courses and videos covering subjects that enhance skills both in and out of the workplace. Find out more about it here.

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/3de0a70e-b970-11e7-9bfb-4a9c83ffa852

Stick Man

Author Stick Man

Stick Man is the saviour of the Learning Technologies industry. He’s not happy unless he is saving the world from boring learning. He’s been saving the world from boring learning since 2014, and intends to continue to do this well into old age (Stick Men live to around 3000 years old apparently). He loves it. Other things that excite him are cat videos and a nice flan.

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