Practical Ways to Improve Employee Performance

In a perfect world, your employees would perform at their best most of the time—with the occasional dip in focus when they are recovering from the flu or are grappling with a personal challenge. But in the real world and at every workplace, improving employee performance takes constant tending.

Think of individual and group performance as a barometer that fluctuates regularly, shifting in relation to myriad factors, including team morale, business outlook, current projects, and staffing levels. Strong managers recognize these changes, and offer support to prevent or correct performance problems—because they understand how much it matters.

The Link Between Employee Performance and Employee Retention

When employee performance quality diminishes—whether in an individual, a team, or a department—the entire organization feels the impact in the short and long term. Soon after employee performance drops, employee engagement follows suit. That’s because dips in performance increase the stress levels and workload of high-functioning employees. These employees, who were already giving their all, start to feel as though the rewards of the job no longer align with their increased output and stress. This results in disengaged employees and team members looking for other opportunities.

It’s a downward spiral that becomes difficult to reverse when allowed to continue. Your best bet is prevention, or at least catching and resolving problems early. Here are some practical strategies to improve employee productivity.

Improve the Work Environment

Research consistently shows productivity improves when employees are physically comfortable. In a 2004 Cornell University study, office workers made fewer mistakes when the temperature was a cozy 77 degrees, rather than a brisk 68 degrees. How you create a comfortable worksite will vary by job and industry, but here are some possibilities:

  • Offer ergonomic desks and chairs, or standing desks.
  • Manage noise so it is not disruptive. Consider offering noise-blocking earphones to employees who have difficulty concentrating with ambient office noise.
  • Ensure all personal protective equipment (PPE) is safe and comfortable.
  • Offer an attractive, comfortable, and clean break room.

Clarify and Communicate Expectations

Productivity comes to a screeching halt when employees are unclear about what they are supposed to accomplish, and the timelines for reaching goals. Telltale signs your organization has communication problems are missed deadlines across departments and among multiple employees, and frequent questions from employees. Establish a communication point person for each department, project, or team. This will often be a manager, but it doesn’t have to be. This individual would be responsible for outlining expectations and deadlines, checking in on progress, and updating employees to any priority adjustments.

Recruit for Cultural Fit

Strong employee performance is determined, in large part, during the recruitment process. This is when it’s determined if they have the key skills for the role, and whether they match the organization’s culture. This doesn’t mean the people you hire should all have similar backgrounds—in fact, workplace diversity is shown to strengthen businesses. Cultural fit refers to a workplace’s unique atmosphere and demands. For example, a person who enjoys collaboration and frequent interaction with coworkers won’t adjust well to a siloed call center environment. Similarly, a person who enjoys office environments probably won’t last in a logistics warehouse job that involves heavy lifting.

Focus on Career Development

Today, employees at every level of your company want to grow in their abilities and their career, and dissatisfaction proliferates when they don’t see the possibility of development. Put yourself in the shoes of employees in various roles in your company to try and understand what a future with your company looks like from their vantage point. If the possibility exists to eventually take on leadership roles, make sure this is clear. Communication avenues can include face-to-face meetings, company newsletters that profile employee career tracks, and mentoring programs.

For roles where there isn’t much room for growth, it’s still important to encourage and support development. Many retail companies, for example, offer tuition reimbursement for their customer service employees.

Review Your Compensation and Benefits

Today’s tight talent market, combined with the rise of extreme transparency of company wages and benefits, makes competitive offerings more important than ever. Online retail behemoth, Amazon, also recently upped the ante in this arena by raising their minimum wage to $15 per hour for all employees, including their contract workforce.

Review your compensation and benefits to ensure they align with direct competitors in your industry and region. If raising wages is not an option at the moment, other non-monetary perks and strategies become even more important. Create a strong Employee Value Proposition (EVP), establish clear career pathways, and promote a supportive, enjoyable work environment.

Value Work-Life Balance and Wellness

Employee burnout is real. But in the face of customer demands and project deadlines, work-life balance and employee wellness are rarely prioritized. This is a mistake because ignoring these important areas of the employee experience results in ever-lower productivity and diminishing returns in the long run. Without these wellness programs in place, your workforce begins to feel like cogs in a machine, rather than individuals with unique needs and lives outside of the workplace.

Improving employee wellness and work-life balance doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor. Here are some offerings to consider:

  • Flexible schedules and work-from-home options.
  • Onsite yoga and meditation classes.
  • Full or partial coverage of gym membership costs.
  • Worksite health screenings.
  • Paid time-off for volunteering with a favorite charity.

Offer Compassion

A 2018 study by Binghamton University researchers found that employee performance improves when managers show them compassion. Indeed, managers achieved greater performance results when they focused first on their employees’ well-being, and second on achieving goals. The study also found, employee performance was lower for leaders with an authoritative approach that focused solely on outcomes.

Nurture an empathetic culture at every level of your organization. Authentic compassionate interactions help employees feel valued as individual human beings and they are more motivated to do their best—and remain—on the job.

Encourage Autonomy

While employees need the support that comes through the preceding strategies, they also benefit from a sense of autonomy on the job. Micromanaging can often undermine employee performance because it makes people feel they aren’t valued or trusted. Following onboarding and training, and after tasks and deadlines are clarified, give employees space to do their job. Establish when you’d like progress check-ins and then allow them some freedom in between. When you do meet with them, offer guidance, support, and clarification where needed. Often, employees rise to meet high expectations.

Review, Adjust, Repeat

The above strategies will help keep employee productivity high, but your efforts must be sustained and their effectiveness assessed regularly. For example, routine strategy reviews may reveal people aren’t taking advantage of your existing wellness programs. It’s possible this is a communication shortfall and including the offering in your newsletter will greatly improve participation.

When employee productivity is consistently high, it can feel as though it is self sustaining. It’s not. People need morale boosts, support, rewards, reminders, and down time to perform at their best. When you offer these things consistently and authentically, your workforce will reward you back with high productivity, creativity, and lasting engagement.

For help improving employee performance, productivity and retention, contact LINK today.