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6 Things That Are Killing Worker Productivity (And How to Fix Them)

6 Things That Are Killing Worker Productivity (And How to Fix Them)
It's not always web surfing and BYOD that kills your office's productivity. / Credit: Shutterstock

Many bosses are quick to blame unrestricted Internet access and short attention spans when their employees aren't getting things done at work. But there are other factors that are potential culprits behind your office's lack of productivity, and as a leader, you might be contributing to them.

Chris Majer, founder and CEO of The Human Potential Project and author of The Power to Transform: Passion, Power and Purpose in Daily Life (Rodale, 2009), believes productivity issues in modern offices stem from an outdated understanding of waste.

"Waste refers to the events, phenomena, experiences and features that diminish our capacity to do what matters to us," Majer said. "These wastes are particular to specific concerns and moments in time: What was wasteful yesterday may or may not be wasteful tomorrow. The business world is making tectonic shifts from even a few short years ago, and most leaders are meeting these changes with entirely misdirected responses."

[Read related article: 10 Tips to Improve Productivity at Work]

Majer said there are six interconnected productivity killers affecting today's workplaces. Before you tighten up that BYOD (bring-your-own-device) policy and set up firewalls, see if your organization is falling prey to one of them.

Moods fall into one of two categories: generative and degenerative. Too many organizations today have a workplace culture marked by some combination of degenerative moods, like distrust, resentment, resignation, cynicism, arrogance and complacency. This can lead to a wide range of unproductive behaviors, which, in turn, waste vast quantities of resources, while leaders are forced to work around or attempt to correct them. People simply cannot or will not perform to their potential when their work environments are negative, unhappy places. The success of managers will depend on their mood-management skills, and their ability to consistently design and deploy generative moods of ambition, confidence and trust.

People value their own opinions, and they want others to value them as well. The same is true in business: Clients, customers, partners and employees expect people to listen to them. Too many organizations today have created and tolerated a range of practices in which creativity, innovation and the fundamental expressions of thoughts and feelings about work and the future are ignored or spurned. If people are not truly listening to one another, accomplishing anything significant and making effective changes become all but impossible.

Most companies still operate bureaucratically, insisting employees work inside increasingly complex structures with processes and procedures designed to standardize or control everything. While this might have been the most efficient way to train assembly-line workers during the Industrial Era, human capital is now the greatest resource for most companies. People are paid to think, innovate and collaborate with others to produce the best possible results. You can't achieve this level of performance if you attempt to dictate their every move with rigid policies and procedures.

Information is often viewed as the most valuable commodity, but data and information are useless without human beings to interpret them. By making information the priority, companies lose sight of its fundamental purpose: to enable them to effectively address their customers' concerns. As people deal with the inadequacies, breakdowns and sterility of most modern information systems, they find themselves unavoidably generating waste and unproductive moods. Rather than attempting to replace people, IT systems, processes and products should be aimed at enabling human cooperation, collaboration and innovation that are essential to growing a business.

Many organizations confuse the occasional "lightning strike" of a new idea or product improvement with having a culture that fosters innovation. But for this to truly be the case, innovation should not be something that happens every once in a while; it should be a critical competence, a skill to be developed, fostered, rewarded and embedded into the workforce. Contemporary management practices are geared toward ensuring stability and predictability, but innovation is unpredictable, and even disruptive. An innovative organization can only exist when leaders are willing to embrace diversity, set aside bureaucracy, and listen to the continuously changing concerns of their employees, customers, suppliers and investors.

Some employees see their work as an endless series of tasks that have commercial value for the enterprise but produce little or no sense of value for the individual worker. This creates an environment where people feel trapped by their need to make a living, prepare for retirement, support families and deal with modern life, while their bosses ignore, diminish or distort the possible ways that work could bring meaning to their lives. When leaders are willing to make the shift away from bureaucratic work styles and encourage listening and innovation, their team will experience meaning and purpose in their working lives. Their interpretation of work will shift from feeling as though they're renting out their brains to feeling like their contributions to the financial strength, practical knowledge and reputation of the company are also a route to developing their own financial success, competence and identities in the world. From this vantage point, work ceases to be toil and becomes a source of meaning and inspiration.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran Business.com's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.