Keys to Employee Productivity

Management consultants and speakers often say the key to employee productivity is empowerment and engagement in the workplace. Unfortunately, most of us “talk the talk” of  developing work cultures that emphasize empowerment and engagement, but we don’t necessarily follow through with actions that lead to that type of work culture.  A recent Right Management survey indicated that 84% of employees plan to look for new jobs in 2011. Seems like there are a lot of people out there who do not feel either empowered or engaged in their current jobs.

As employers it is kind of a scary to think about the possibility that good employees are thinking of leaving. So what is going wrong?

As usual. it isn’t any one thing we are doing wrong, but in working with a number of different organizations, I have noticed some  reoccurring themes. One theme I’ve seen in all different types of businesses has been underemployment—employees  who are trained or skilled beyond the expectations of the job, or in some cases employees who believe they are but actually are not. This situation occurs when we hire over-qualified individuals, which happens more often in an economy where highly skilled/trained people are desperately searching for jobs. It’s easy to be dazzled by an applicant’s credentials..

My advice is to stay focused on the qualifications and duties of the particular job and hire the best person for that job. It can be the over-qualified applicant as long as they have the attitude, fit, and passion to do the job that is being filled. Employees generally stay with a company longer when they like what they do, see their work as being valuable and feel appreciated for doing it. Applicants who clearly see a job as only a stepping stone, a temporary gig, or beneath them are not likely good hires.

Another theme that has emerged has been the resurgence of command and control behavior by supervisors. The demands on companies to do more with less, be leaner, and cut whatever you can cut, all in efforts to be as effective and as efficient as possible, are incredible. In many cases, the line between being open for business or not is a very thin one. Mid-level managers and supervisors report being more stressed than they have ever been and often do not feel they have much influence on the decisions that come from the top. They don’t feel very empowered or engaged themselves, so when they turn to their subordinates they use the same approach. 

Most employees like to be involved in some way with the decisions that affect them. When they are not, they can quickly become dissatisfied and start looking for new jobs. Dissatisfied employees also tend to not be very productive. “The Magic of Self-Directed Work Teams,” by Paul C. Palmes, provides a case study of how one manufacturing company built its culture to truly engage and empower employees at all levels of the organization. It contains a number of lessons that can be used in any organization.

Next week I will share some of these lessons, and expand on the themes and issues impacting empowerment and engagement in organizations.

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