Much has been said about the western world and our culture in recent decades particularly regarding workplace practices. We are seen as out of date and out of touch in a great many areas one of which is workplace productivity. Australians are overcoming the 1980s Paul Hogan “Put another shrimp on the barbie” stereotype which has seen many from overseas label us as an easy going, laidback society. The truth is the modern Australian office worker is anything but laidback with many putting in unpaid overtime, sometimes working up to 55 hours per week. In a recent 2014 Australia Institute study, work life balance was found to be deteriorating for 40% of working Australians. Many have even proposed the government step in to ensure a fair balance is struck between the needs of the boss and the needs of the family. People are only human, so managers shouldn’t expect to retain staff over the long term if they are run into the ground. There are certainly week to week and month to month business priorities and issues which need to be dealt with but engaging and not just retaining them should be your top priority. If you are finding issues are popping up regularly which require members of your team to put in unpaid overtime perhaps it’s time to consider hiring some extra part-time staff to specifically cover the extra demand? Another option would be to split your team up and allocate some staff to cover normal hours and other staff to cover later hours. If the focus is on improving the productivity of these small teams you will get similar output levels as before minus the burnout.
Businesses here in Australia need to increase productivity without compromising quality. For service delivery centric businesses, managers and their staff need to optimise the way they use their time. Time not capital is quickly evolving to become the most precious commodity a business has available. There are a number of ways managers can utilise stress minimisation to achieve productivity dividends.
Limit Meeting Times. Nobody likes a long meeting but it has actually been found the most productivity gains can be achieved from meetings which average 37.5 minutes long. According to Atlassian, the average worker wastes 31 hours per week in unproductive meetings each month. That means if a member of your team is pushing themselves to the limit working 55+ hours in a week they are wasting 56% of their time! 55 hours per week of logged work might look good on paper but this translates to as little as 24 hours per week (or 4.8 hours per day) of actual productive work.
Stand up. Standing improves blood flow not only to the brain but also to the whole body. Employers have started to notice the benefits of working and conducting meetings standing up. When you sit down not only do you increase your cancer risk but you also become less productive. Standing up increases blood flow to the brain improving focus and attention span while minimising time wasting activities. Furniture manufacturers are even starting to get in on the action producing new designs which cater to this type of ergonomics.
Limit your team’s work hours to 35-40 per week. A recent study by University College London found working beyond this threshold increases stress and decreases individual health and wellbeing.
Social media is for home. This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who covertly alt tabs between Facebook and an Excel spreadsheet while at work but increased social media usage makes it harder to focus on what you are doing. The human brain is wired to deliver the best problem solving results when it is left to mull on a problem and work all the angles over a long period of time. You can’t problem solve part-time in 5 minute bursts, this needs to be a full-time job for period of up to an hour or more of complete silence and focus.
Death to email. Email is one of my pet hates in the workplace. Your organisation should look at ways to minimise email usage. While you can’t control external stakeholders wanting to email you and get in touch you can control those internal variables such as internal staff email communication chains and the dreaded reply all. There are many affordable web based project management platforms out there on the market, such as Asana, which are doing a pretty good job at killing the internal office email while also improving internal coordination and communication.
Promote health and fitness as much as possible perhaps with a gym session or a quick 30 minute walk/run around 8.30am to stimulate thought processes. Providing healthy foods such as fruits or cereals while discouraging high sugar and high caffeine energy drinks can go a long way to improving the general health and well-being of your team. Treat these health and fitness expenses as valuable human resource investments because a healthy happy team in the long term will add up to lower turnover, increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, decreased sickness and a more loyal, dedicated team.