Improving staff productivity without money or torture.

Over the last decade worker productivity in Canada relative to the US has fallen from 90% of US rates during the 80’s to only 75% of that of the US. And this drop was before the advent of Facebook.  The easiest conclusion is that our employees are just producing less than our US counterparts, yet on the surface, no one in Canada believes our employees don’t work as hard. Why is this the case? No one really understands the problem, never mind how to find a solution. If we put 10 economists in a room to debate this issue, we would end up with countless different answers to countless different problems.

Every CEO talks about increasing productivity but just what the heck is it? Most professors and economists use this basic formula to measure productivity:

Productivity = Real Value of the Output/Total labour input

Improving productivity is achieved by either increasing value of the output or by decreasing the total labour input. But it is easier said than done. One of the ways to do this is have your staff working at their optimum performance or peak performance. Many studies have been conducted in this subject.

A well respected expert studying peak performance, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, believes to achieve peak performance one must be in the Flow. He describes the essence of Flow as the state a person finds themselves in when the difficult is made to look easy, a complete absorption in the task at hand. He notes Flow can be achieved many times throughout the day, but it is not usually sustainable throughout an entire eight-hour day. His theory suggests that a manager needs to create the right conditions for Flow to happen:

  1. The ability for people to use their signature strengths,
  2. A clear set of goals,
  3. Prompt feedback,
  4. Challenges that stretch and mesh with the ability to meet them, and
  5. A sense of control

This sounds great but this approach to productivity improvement leaves out intangible factors like creativity and imagination. Charlie Gilkey, a productivity specialist, redefines how productive is calculated through the following equation:

Productivity= (Creative Energy + Focus + Motivation + Aptitude + Ideal Time)/(Difficulty + Distractions)

So how does a manager go about effecting these factors? Here are 4 strange strategies to try to improve productivity based on studies:

1. Increase Office Temperature:

A study at Cornell University has found that office workers in a warm environment are more productive than they are in colder spaces. The study was conducted by Alan Hedge, who is a professor of design and environmental analysis. Nine office workstations were outfitted with sensors that sampled the air temperature every 15 minutes and monitored the amount of time the workers used the keyboard, and the amount of time spent correcting errors. The results are a little surprising. At 66 degrees Fahrenheit (18.8 degrees Celsius) workers typed 54 percent of the time and with a 25 percent error rate. When the temperature was raised to 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius), the workers were typing 100 percent of the time and with a paltry 10 percent error rate.

2. Let your staff surf the web during work hours:

Dr Brent Coker, professor at Melbourne University, says employees who surf the internet for leisure during working hours are more productive than those who don’t. A study of 300 office workers found 70 percent of people who use the internet at work engage in Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing (WILB). ‘People who do surf the internet for fun at work within a reasonable limit of less than 20 per cent of their total time in the office are more productive by about nine per cent than those who don’t,’ said Coker. ‘People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration. Think back to when you were in class listening to a lecture and after about 20 minutes your concentration probably went right down, yet after a break your concentration was restored and was the same in the workplace.’ Coker warns that excessive time spent surfing the internet could have the reverse effect.”

3. Buy some plants:

A study conducted in the Netherlands by TFjeld and the Winterswijk Tax Office on the effect of plants in the work place, found live plants in the office had a positive effect on work output. The most significant findings of the study included improvements in air quality, both measured and perceived by the employees and improvements in productivity. The study concluded, their productivity improved, especially in terms of efficiency; the strongest link was found with those working at computer terminals. The most explicit variables are the ratings assigned for quality of the working environment and well-being; loss of concentration dropped, i.e. concentration improved in the test group.

In another study conducted by the College of Agriculture at Washington State University (WSU) shows that live interior plants increase employee productivity and reduce stress. The study, published in the “Journal of Environmental Horticulture,” reports that productivity increased 12 percent when people performed tasks on a computer with plants, compared to people who performed the same task in a room without plants.

4. Shower Breaks:

As strange as it sounds, an 8 week study showed staff who took a break to shower at some point during the day found an overall boost in productivity and creativity of 42% and 33% respectively. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which involved four businesses in an eight week study: a restaurant, an architect firm, an advertising agency and a lingerie company. (Since you have raised the office temperature, your staff may need more cleaning) Employees generally felt that they had done a better job during the showering phase, with a 16 per cent increase, and 23 per cent felt they were in a better mood.