Blog Post

Helping Employees Find a Productive State of Mind

Cornerstone Editors

Self-control drives workers to file that report, make a sales call or finish the meeting agenda, yet managers largely fail to consider its impact on worker productivity. They fret about meeting performance goals or building a product, but they ignore the motivating factors that individual employees need to deliver results.

"In our own lives self-control is a big problem — yet it is largely absent from high-level discussions about worker productivity," Sendhil Mullainathan, a professor of economics at Harvard, writes in the New York Times.

In a recent study, Mullainathan and his colleagues set out to understand workers’ self-control on the job. They studied data entry workers in India. These employees were already well motivated in their jobs: they received 2 rupees for every 100 fields of data they entered. The researchers gave the workers the option to set a target for their work. If they entered 5,000 data fields, they would maintain the same pay rate, but if they failed to meet the goal, their pay rate would be halved to 1 rupee per 100 fields.

Surprisingly many employees chose the target, saying it helped them stay productive. The option didn’t offer a better pay rate — in fact it made it possible for them to earn less, if they didn’t meet the target — but it helped them work harder, thus earning more. Mullainathan suggests that these workers craved a self-control mechanism to keep them productive. They’re looking at productivity as a state of mind, he says.

A Call for New Measurement

While data entry is a relatively easy task to measure, productivity in the knowledge economy generally lacks concrete metrics. For example, does extra time on a customer service call mean that an employee is being less productive? Or is she adding value by building stronger relationships with customers? A worker who responds to hundreds of emails all day long might feel productive, but the value of that work likely is less impactful than actually doing research or writing a report, for instance.

"In general, organizations have not truly come to grips with how to think about productivity in a knowledge economy, let alone how best to manage it," Jordan Cohen, a productivity expert with PA Consulting Group, tells Knowledge at Wharton.

Managers don’t think twice about interrupting employees for an urgent request or to call an impromptu meeting, yet we know the growing amount of workplace disruptions adversely affects workplace productivity. In a study published in the Journal of Stress Management, employees who experienced frequent interruptions reported 9 percent higher rates of exhaustion; and it takes more than 25 minutes, on average, to resume a task after being interrupted, the Wall Street Journal reports.

If managers think deeply about what individual productivity means, and how their actions play a role in it, they'll likely make decisions that won't set employees back. "How a company defines productivity will determine what infrastructure they build to measure and manage it," Cohen says. "If they don’t really question the traditional assumptions around productivity, they end up with an industrial-era notion — simply that ’more output with less input’ is better." In other words, managers today need more subjective criteria for determining productivity. For lawyers, that might mean tracking how often others cite their briefs. For engineers, it’s not how many lines of code they produce, but the quality of the solution that the code creates.

Once managers understand establish a semblance of measurement behind productivity, they’ll be better equipped to help those employees feel a sense of self-control.

Related Resources

Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.

Empowering Employees by Learning & Development at Amplifon

On-demand Webinar

Video

Customer Story

Empowering Employees by Learning & Development at Amplifon

Learning and development strategies must continue to evolve in the ever-changing world of work. Training and development provide employees with a softer landing into change, and the introduction of digital learning and development platforms allowed employees a smoother transition into a new style of work. Amplifon created a learning and development strategy that is hyper-personalised and skills-focused, allowing their people and their entire organisations to become more agile and adaptable. Amplifon invested not only in learning and development content but also in strengthening the global network and collaboration across geographies and functions, to encourage an equal sense of belonging across the entire organisation. Amplifon created a learning and development strategy that is hyper-personalised and skills-focused, allowing their people and their entire organisations to become more agile and adaptable. Amplifon invested not only in learning and development content but also in strengthening the global network and collaboration across geographies and functions, to encourage an equal sense of belonging across the entire organisation.

Howdens shares how they grew learning by over 500% in one year

Video

Howdens shares how they grew learning by over 500% in one year

Charlene Jackson, HR & Payroll Systems Lead, shares how Howdens moved from traditional classroom based training, to grow learning by over 500% in just one year through the introduction of a simple, modern user experience, accessible from any device.

4 tips to managing diversity and gender equality in your company

Blog Post

4 tips to managing diversity and gender equality in your company

If you want to generate success in your company and work in a harmonious environment, then you need to consider each and every one of your employees, get to know their interests, and offer them the best treatment and commitment. However, one of the most important principles that should be commonplace in every organisation is the equal treatment of employees (regardless of gender, race or religion). Gender, for example, should not be a factor that influences how we treat our workforce. Having a gender equality policy shows employees that they are valued and that the company is serious about ending discrimination. Having a fair remuneration policy that is not distinguished by the employee’s gender, but by their job position and their development within the company is an important step towards gender quality too. Opt for a gender-diverse workforce Having more gender diversity in a company is very positive and not just for the company’s own benefit. In fact, the UK could boost its GDP by 9% if the female employment rates matched with Sweden’s for instance. The challenge for HR departments is to successfully and strategically find and enrol more women in their business. It could solve a real problem, breaking barriers of gender discrimination in the workplace and promoting equality within the company. Equality between your workers is essential It is important to not only review the salaries of your employees, but also other professional aspects such as career plans and promotions, ensuring that there are equal opportunities for both men and women. Equality will undoubtedly be a motivational element for employees, regardless of their gender, as having clear objectives is a contributing factor in maintaining employees’ interest levels Strike a balance between work life and family life Fostering harmony between work and family life is key to attracting and retaining talent. It can contribute to the company culture, and to a positive attitude and collaboration amongst employees. Another important point is not to make sweeping generalisations about different genders, and instead to consider the specifics on a case by case basis. Employees need to see that their family life is considered and respected. They will appreciate this and it will likely improve company loyalty in the long run. HR must ensure gender equality in their company HR’s role is essential in managing and promoting gender diversity within the business. They must ensure that the motivation and commitment of their employees is strengthened, which, in turn, strengthens the workforce overall and benefits the entire company.

Schedule a personalised 1:1

Talk to a Cornerstone expert about how we can help with your organisation’s unique people management needs.

© Cornerstone 2022
Legal