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The Productivity Drop: What's Causing It

Productivity in the workplace has been dropping sharply in recent years. Why is this occurring and how can we fix it?

Workplace productivity in 2022 reached its lowest point in 75 years according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This has sparked many discussions and investigations into the causes behind this sharp decline.

Why is this Happening?

According to Julia Pollack, chief economist with ZipRecruiter, frustration, boredom/dissatisfaction, and burnout at work are among the various factors causing productivity levels to plummet. Major world events (i.e. a global pandemic), generational differences, and constant changes or lack of clarity in the workplace are also contributing to this problem.

After Covid-19 hit, there was a persistent struggle to balance remote work, childcare, and other pandemic-related stressors. Uncertainty about job security and the future also fueled frustration and anxiety. This led to widespread burnout among employees that has only worsened as we have tried to return to a semblance of normalcy. The pandemic forced most businesses to adapt rapidly, often with limited clarity on the way forward.

Frequent changes in work processes, expectations, and goals have become commonplace, further impacting stress levels and burnout among employees. When employees are unsure what is expected of them or how their work contributes to the organization's noble cause, it can lead to confusion, inefficiency, and resentment. To remedy this, it is important to ensure that job roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Regularly communicate organizational goals and how individual contributions align with these objectives. Encourage open dialogue to address any ambiguities or concerns. Doing this will increase employee engagement, thus increasing their levels of productivity.

Generational differences play a large role as well. The workplace is now a blend of multiple generations, each with unique values, expectations, and work styles. Bridging the generational gap has proven to be a challenge for many organizations, leading to miscommunication, misunderstandings, and a lack of alignment. This can be a particular problem for CEO’s and other executives, who are often baby boomers that struggle to align their expectations with those of millennials and Generation Z. This leads to disappointment and frustration on both sides, dramatically impacting productivity.

There is also a need for happiness and autonomy for employees. Burnout, boredom, and low employee satisfaction can often be attributed to employees lacking these two things in their organization.

Workers who are satisfied with their jobs and have more control over their tasks tend to perform better and have more motivation. However, many organizations still operate under traditional, hierarchical structures that limit autonomy and job satisfaction, leading to these lower productivity levels.

Micromanagement can also lower productivity. When employees feel constantly scrutinized or that their every move is being monitored, it can lead to disengagement, frustration, and a lack of motivation. Micromanagers may inadvertently stifle creativity and hinder production. Trusting employees and empowering them to take ownership of their work can go a long way towards increasing their productivity. Provide clear expectations and goals, but avoid overbearing supervision. Managers should tend to focus more on results rather than processes. If you want to learn more about Micromanagement and how to combat it, check out our article on the subject.

Below The Line

These factors can all lead organizations and people to stay in a state that we call “below the line.” The graph below gives a visual representation of this. If people are in states of hopelessness, fear, or frustration, they are below the power and freedom line and are unproductive and ineffective, especially compared to those who are above the line.

Unfortunately, given the constant uncertainty and chaos in our world and the pervasiveness of burnout and dissatisfaction at work, many people are currently operating in states below the line. Not only does this hinder their productivity, but it keeps them in a constant cycle of stress and frustration, potentially harming their health and vitality at work and in life. Only when people operate from a state of courage can they rise above the line and achieve higher levels of productivity and success.

Many organizations have cultures that are also below the line. Organizations with cultures that are in states of hopelessness, fear, or frustration will have employees stuck in those states as well. Many of these factors causing low productivity can be attributed to an ineffective culture. If you have an entangled culture, infighting, aggression, and poor communication may be common, leading to low levels of success and productivity. If you want to learn more about the differences between an entangled and an emergent culture, check out this article that dives further into this topic.

Increasing Productivity

Workplace productivity is a vital component of any successful organization. The declining productivity levels in the modern workplace are a complex challenge that demands a multifaceted approach. Addressing the generational gaps, prioritizing employee satisfaction and autonomy, eliminating micromanagement, ensuring clarity in roles and goals, and keeping employees above the line are all critical steps in the right direction.

Organizations that actively work to bridge these gaps and create a more conducive work environment will not only see improvements in productivity, but also enjoy higher employee engagement, morale, and retention. In today's competitive business landscape, understanding and addressing these productivity challenges is essential for long-term success and sustainability.

If you want to learn how to take your employees productivity levels to greater heights and adapt to an ever-changing business landscape, check out a Free Chapter of "Ignite Culture" by Wall Street Journal best-selling author Margaret Graziano. "Ignite Culture" guides leaders to empower and lead a healthy, high-performance organizational culture from the inside out, optimizing the unique talents of those within the organization and enabling them to operate at their highest level of effectiveness.


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