July 25, 2021
Performance Management 07 July 2020
5 Reasons Employees Are Being Unproductive
Jessica Thiefels
employee productivity, performance management, employee recognition

Even the most committed workers can be unproductive, but problems arise when productivity dwindles across an entire office or workplace. Lack of productivity can decrease output, performance, and profit, and can also affect morale and cause the work environment to become toxic.

If you’re a business owner or supervisor who hopes to motivate your employees and boost productivity, you must first understand the underlying cause of your employees’ behavior. While individual circumstances can vary, here are five common reasons employees may be unproductive.

Lack of Recognition

While you assume employees should and will show up to work every day and give their full effort—because that’s their job—employee performance is not that simple. Most hard-working employees are intrinsically motivated but they still need to feel valued and appreciated in the workplace. According to Erika Andersen, founding partner of Proteus and contributor to Forbes

"If you deal with employees as though they are cogs in a machine, you will get only that part of them that is most like a cog in a machine: the part that shows up on time, does exactly what's asked—no more no less—and goes home."

"You will not get the 90 percent of each person that is what can make him or her a great employee, partner, team member: the initiative, the questions, the passion, the concerns, the hope, all the quirkiness and joy and excellence that people will bring to their work if you invite them to do so." 

Recognition leads to greater overall job satisfaction and as such, productivity increases. Fortunately, employee recognition doesn’t necessarily equate to bonuses or monetary incentives. Simply saying “thank you” can help individuals feel valued and appreciated. 

Other ideas include mentioning stand-out employees on social media or in company newsletters, or offering longer lunches or time-off for well-done projects and work. Consider creating an employee recognition program that consists of rewards, praise, and prizes, so everyone can have their chance to feel valued.

Goals Aren’t Clearly Defined

Do your employees know what is expected of them, not just in their individual role but also within the company as a whole? Specific goals set the bar for achievement, give staff members a target to work towards, and provide your company with specific metrics to measure performance. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you work toward goals for employees:

  • When you set goals for your employees or teams, make sure they coincide with company-wide initiatives. This makes it clear that everyone is part of the big picture and their contributions are an integral piece of the company’s success. 

  • Involve employees in the goal-setting process. When they have a say and choice, it increases their sense of control and autonomy. According to a study on employee burnout from The Office Club

    “The data shows that as employees gain more control and autonomy in their positions, job satisfaction rises in tandem. There is a strong statistically significant relationship between job satisfaction and levels of control and autonomy at work.”

  • Most importantly, don’t set unattainable goals, which can have the opposite effect and cause workers to feel stressed out and discouraged: “… people are motivated by fully achieving challenging goals on a regular basis,” says Ted Harro, founder of Noonday Ventures.

No Growth Opportunities

Individuals can get complacent in their roles if they don’t feel challenged or don’t feel there are opportunities for growth within the company. This leads to a lack of motivation, decreased performance, and in many cases, employee turnaround. According to Carl Robinson, Ph.D., from Advanced Leadership Consulting.

“Top-flight employees want and need to have growth opportunities. They will not stay very long where they don't feel challenged and where they don't feel their bosses take their development seriously.”

Check-in with your staff regularly, rather than waiting until the annual review. If a team member doesn’t feel challenged, talk to him or her about what you can do to help. Is there another project he or she can take on? Can he or she take the lead on a task or collaborate with another department? 

Don’t forget to be honest about growth opportunities; evaluate your employees’ interests and skill sets and provide constructive criticism that helps them improve and develop. Be clear about the opportunities available through your company's succession planning and pathways. This ensures you always have high-quality employees ready to take on new and more challenging roles, mentally and skills-wise.

No Work-Life Balance

Long hours and hectic days are inevitable when there are projects due and impending deadlines, but this shouldn’t be the norm for your company. In order to maintain productivity and job satisfaction, your employees must be able to have a life outside of work. 

“Prevent your employees from burning out by ensuring that they’re not only meeting their goals at work but that they also have the time and energy to meet their personal goals,” according to Critical Metrics. “Encourage your employees to seek fulfillment in general and it’ll become their habit, in and out of the office.”

Are there opportunities for your employees to achieve a greater work-life balance? Can you offer remote or telework options, flexible hours, or daycare benefits for parents? This is another opportunity for you to check-in with your staff and find out how you can help them perform well at their job and pursue outside-of-work interests.

Company Culture Isn’t a Priority

Work-life balance aside, you and your team spend a lot of time at work. With many different personalities, it’s impossible for everyone to get along all the time, but positive company culture can make the office environment more friendly and comfortable. 

Positive company culture also helps your employees feel more engaged with their co-workers and more connected to the company and their work. According to Maura Nevel Thomas of Regain Your Time

“Often overlooked in organizations, especially large ones, is the fact that productivity, happiness, and engagement are all related. Employees who are happier and more satisfied at work are more productive and more engaged in the mission of the organization.”

 You can improve company culture by promoting recognition, organizing team-building and professional development events, and encouraging communication and positive employee relationships.

If you’ve noticed subpar performance from your staff, consider where you should make adjustments. Perhaps new goals, better work-life balance, or greater emphasis on growth within the company is just what you need to motivate your unproductive employees. 

Schedule a demo with an expert to see how ProSky can help improve your culture and manage the performance of your team!

Article updated 7/7/2020

Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years has managed a number of employees in her various roles. She now owns her own consulting business and has been featured on Forbes. She’s also shared her business insights on StartupNation, Manta,  Glassdoor,  and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jthiefels for more small business tips and ideas.