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American productivity has long been in decline. In fact, a study by Gallup and the U.S. Council on Competitiveness found that despite significant improvements in job growth and unemployment since the Great Recession, the United States's fading productivity and other factors have left the nation’s recovery shaky at best.
Perhaps this isn’t surprising — Gallup surveys have also indicated that less than a third of Americans are emotionally engaged in their jobs. And engagement and productivity are inextricably tied — as they should be.
But just because the country as a whole is grappling with declining productivity doesn’t mean the same fate must befall your particular office. The only way industries will regain their former productive glory — or fledgling industries will set new records — is through individual companies finding ways to fuel their team members’ productivity.
Here are five ways you can do just that:
1. Create an active workspace.
Some companies cater to ergonomics purely as an HR issue, but the value of a workspace built for human bodies is real: More than 40 percent of injuries incurred at work are sprains and strains. Sitting at a desk all day, and moving only to visit the kitchen or the restroom, is bad for you. And exercise later in the day can’t undo the negative effects.
An active workspace can do three things: 1) move people around so their spines don’t curve to their chairs; 2) allow them to move to the best space for the particular project they’re working on; and 2) ensure that they’re no longer isolated by cubicle walls.
Standing desks and memory foam mats are an easy way to begin investing in an active workspace. Removing the interrupted line of sight created by cubicles is another.
2. Provide fuel.
Do you notice employees slumped at their desks in the afternoon, hours after their morning coffee? They probably need some fresh fuel in the form of snacks — even (and especially) those who scarfed down double cheeseburgers for lunch. A whopping 94 percent of Americans snack every day, but 60 percent of them wish they had healthier options available.
So, provide them! Stock a pantry with fruit, nuts, granola bars, jerky and other foods that appeal to a variety of cravings while also providing energy. It couldn’t hurt, either, to provide incentives to drink more water, like flavor drops or reusable company cups.
3. Clearly reward what you want more of.
While some companies have turned to gamification or leaderboards to motivate employees, not all staffers will respond to increased competition — and that’s OK. But every employee — competitive or not — will silently observe how leaders in the company reward and punish their colleagues’ behavior. What gets rewarded gets replicated.
Make it a point to enforce habits and actions you want to see among your teammates: Reward performers who you want others to emulate with promotions, bonuses and other forms of recognition (as warranted and as needed within the company, of course).
Because punishments can be more effective than rewards in situations where you want to discourage impulsiveness, do the inverse — don’t promote people who behave in selfish or shortsighted ways, and don’t reward their behavior with more minor acknowledgments like awards or companywide emails.
Your spoken kudos and unspoken disappointment will be absorbed by other employees and used to drive future behavior.
4. Offer professional development.
An American Management Association survey of more than 300 HR executives found that opportunities to enhance skills were crucial to top performers. This means that the employees who sparkle the most are motivated by opportunities to sparkle more brightly — and this can boost the retention of these highly skilled employees. Improved skills and increased longevity with your company will be a big win for you.
You don’t need to break the bank to offer professional development. You can cherry-pick the specific employees who stand to benefit most — and even offer development opportunities as a reward for behavior that deserves to be replicated. Then simply rotate these opportunities to different employees each year.
You can also ask employees attending training to bring back skills or knowledge, such as coding or compliance, and train the rest of the team on what they’ve learned. That can boost the productivity of your training dollars and your team.
5. Remove roadblocks.
Perhaps the most affordable way to boost productivity is to take things out of your office rather than adding them. Examples might include:
a dubious process that’s been layered on over the years that you could well live without
three different expense reports employees have to fill out for reasons no one can cite
a reporting structure so confusing that even company veterans still don’t know whom to turn to for help
These are all areas where simple streamlining could eliminate steps and boost your co-workers’ productivity.
Another roadblock might be a toxic employee. This is one area where many leaders see only dollar signs and hesitate to make a move: They’ve seen the studies showing that replacing an employee costs 10 percent to 30 percent of his or her annual salary.
But the truth is that a toxic employee has a bigger impact on your business than a rock star does, so removing people who are a drain on the most productive members of your workforce can result in big savings in terms of time and money.
Every company could use an injection of productivity, and you don’t need a complete overhaul — or a loan — to make an impact. Simply creating a comfortable and safe environment and eliminating confusing processes, bad habits and a lack of essential skills will do the trick. While others might be dealing with sluggish productivity, your company doesn’t have to follow suit.