As any leader knows, time is money. In May, the Labor Department released a report showing that worker productivity had increased more quickly than it had in the past four years. In turn, labor costs went down. Companies not only made more money as a result of their employees’ hard work, but they also saved money through increased productivity — time had a twofold impact on the bottom line.
And that impact compounds the longer an employee sticks with a company. Long-time employees have more institutional knowledge, more experience, and more refined skill sets than new employees. By engaging long-term staffers , businesses can quickly see their output increase. If they want to accelerate it further, they have to invest in employees’ happiness: A Harvard Business Review analysis revealed that companies with happy employees had 37% higher sales and 31% higher productivity.
Investing in productivity and employee satisfaction doesn’t require completely separate efforts. Businesses can pad their bottom line and keep people around longer by doing a few things:
1. Get clear about how each person influences the company’s chances of hitting its goals. Patrick Lencioni, the author of “ The Truth About Employee Engagement ,” explains that people need to feel that what they do matters. Employees who feel distanced from the end goal go through the motions; they feel like literal cogs in a wheel they can’t influence. They put together reports or analyze one segment of the business without understanding how their work impacts the whole.
To combat that, make a point to draw a line between how each role impacts the ultimate goal, whether that’s to become the biggest provider of consulting services or the outsourced recruiting firm with the happiest customers. Have managers host a one-on-one meeting with each team member to explain how she matters to the company. Then, have those managers work with these employees to brainstorm ways they can have a greater impact or boost others’ influence through their actions. By empowering them and underscoring their contribution, you’ll fuel productivity.
2. Build stronger internal relationships. One of Gallup’s core questions when assessing engagement at work is “Do you have a best friend at work?” It found that people with close confidants at work were more engaged with work itself — women with a best friend at work were twice as likely to be engaged as those who didn’t.
This may sound nebulous or like something beyond the purview of leadership, but managers can encourage bonding among teammates. Create areas for spontaneous water cooler talk, like break rooms or casual workspaces. Organize brainstorm and project teams across departments that will not only bring together disparate strengths, but also team up people who might normally not work together. Emphasize risk-taking innovation and process streamlining as team events. Hosting social gatherings — team picnics, Friday happy hours to celebrate milestones, “park days” to get out of the office — can also allow people to develop relationships based on more than just the work they share.
3. Emphasize employee development over C-suite visibility. A lot of companies zone in on executive leadership growth, believing that the biggest investments should be made in their biggest assets. It’s true that C-suite leaders should be the ones attending big conferences or giving keynotes to potential investors — they’re the ones with the authority to sign off on new deals or big changes.
But who might someday fill those big shoes when execs retire or move on? Employees in the trenches, who have technical skills but may need more refinement and confidence when it comes to leadership skills. Pew Research Center found that 54% of employees felt ongoing training was essential to their career progress, so they need to visibly see your investment in them. Rotate hosts of brainstorming sessions, particularly if you can let a subject matter expert take lead. (Your actuary might be better positioned to talk about data collection than your CMO, in all honesty.)
Give experts opportunities to train or present to others. Have managers talk with individuals who have expressed interest in promotions about the path they might travel to attain their goals — including a budget for additional training, certifications, or conferences. The sharper your employees are, the more productive they’re likely to be.
4. Reward the behavior that leads to the culture you need. In recent years, a lot has been written about the importance of company culture: Building a positive space makes work more enjoyable and lightens the load employees are carrying. But culture isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s a need-to-have. Gallup revealed that more than half of employees are looking for new jobs, and company culture was one of the top reasons. If you experience regular turnover, you’ll never have those long-time employees you need for high-powered productivity.
That means you need to reward the behavior you want to see, as well as the behavior that keeps people around. Swiftly address behavior or attitude problems before they poison the well — Mark Murphy of LeadershipIQ found that high performers are demoralized by low performers not being held accountable (or even knowing how they stand , performance-wise). Clearly outline the consequences of lackluster effort, from the types of conversations that will occur to the metrics that will be tracked to ensure an employee can stay in a role.
Publicly acknowledge efforts that should be emulated. This doesn’t have to result in a lot of fanfare; some employees will be embarrassed and demoralized by a company-wide meeting shout-out. But a side note in a newsletter, a team meeting thumbs-up, or promised bonuses for specific achievements can signal to both an employee and her peers that her effort was appreciated.
Time truly is money. But you can squeeze more productivity out of the time you have with a more engaged — and longer-lasting — workforce. Invest in your employees. As their investment in your company grows, you’ll see the payoff in terms of a bigger bottom line.