You like and appreciate your employees, but sometimes you can’t help but wonder: Could they make some changes that would increase their productivity? Maybe they seem caught up in busywork sometimes, or you’ve noticed ways they could improve their efficiency or effectiveness.

Chances are, your intuition is trying to tell you something. According to Gallup, only 32% of U.S. employees are engaged in their work. Engagement is important, Gallup notes, because it’s a strong predictor of how productive and successful a business is.

If you don’t think your staff would be enthusiastic about a productivity improvement effort, you might be surprised. Employees crave opportunities to learn and challenge themselves. Professional growth is a key aspect of job satisfaction.

But push your employees too hard and they’re likely to experience burnout. That leads to staff turnover, which can erase any productivity gains you were hoping to create.

So what’s the best way to nudge your staff’s productivity upward without being, well, counterproductive? Read on for a game plan.

Assess Your Current Productivity

Your first step toward greater productivity is getting a handle on where your business is now and where you want it to go. There’s no one magic formula for measuring your productivity. A lot will depend on your field.

One common way to look at productivity is in terms of outputs vs. inputs. Choose a statistic from your business, such as sales at your restaurant or the total number of new memberships last year at your gym, and determine how many workers (or work hours) it took to get that result. This is a good time to look at whether you’re quantifying all the key indicators of your business’s productivity. If high customer satisfaction is important to you, for example, are you regularly doing surveys to measure it?

Once you have some metrics to look at, consider which ones you want to focus on improving, the educational website Universal Class recommends. How can you break those changes down into goals for your employees? If, say, you want to increase sales at your store by 5% next month, how much more does each employee need to sell per week?

Support Your Employees’ Productivity

To help your employees meet those goals, the first step is simply letting them know about the big-picture objectives you’re aiming for. Here’s another surprising figure from Gallup: Worldwide, about half of all employees say they don’t know what’s expected of them at work. But according to Universal Class, employees who understand the relationship between their own actions and their employer’s goals are happier and more productive. That’s why it pays to set clear, consistent expectations with your staff.

You’ll also want to look for anything in your work culture that could be holding back your employees’ productivity. Do they have the equipment  —for example, up-to-date POS and scheduling systems for restaurants — to deliver the results you expect? Do you give them access to essential information about what’s going on in the business? Keeping employees out of the loop about some matters might seem simpler at the time, but it poisons morale and productivity. Is there any “stupid stuff” — like a regular meeting that’s outlived its usefulness — that you can get rid of and free up time for more productive activities? And do your staff members have enough development opportunities? Continued learning gives employees the skills they need to perform at their best. And, as we mentioned earlier, it increases their feelings of engagement.

Productivity stumbling blocks can come from outside the workplace, too. If an employee’s work and personal lives feel out of balance, her job performance can suffer. But, luckily, the reverse is also true: According to one recent survey, almost two-thirds of employers said flexibility improved employee engagement and motivation. The right type of scheduling software allows you to offer greater scheduling flexibility without adding to your own workload. Some of these softwares can enable employees to swap shifts on their own, and it enables you to collaborate in real time on schedule changes.

While you might worry that pushing for greater productivity means taking a heavier hand as a manager, there’s a strong case that the opposite is actually true. Writing for Forbes.com, contributor Michel Theriault explains that while you should let employees know about your key objectives, you don’t have to micro-manage them toward meeting those objectives. If they develop their own plans to meet a goal, they’ll have a greater sense of ownership over their work.

Finally, as your employees continue to build their productivity, don’t forget to recognize their efforts. According to the Reliable Plant blog, employees will continue giving their all only if they valued. While a cash bonus is great, of course, recognition doesn’t always have to take the form of money. Some employees might prefer additional paid time off. (This is another way that Planday can come in handy!)

Lisa Andersen
Lisa Andersen Content Editor
Part of Planday’s content team in Copenhagen, Lisa is into yoga and loves good writing. Her experience includes working with communication and PR for international grassroots organizations in Argentina and Bolivia.

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