Improving Employee Performance

December 7, 2020
# min read
Rob Long

A recent WorkTrends report out of Rutgers paints a rather bleak picture of how Americans are currently feeling about work (http://www.heldrich.rutgers.edu/products/unhappy-worried-and-pessimistic-americans-aftermath-great-recession). The report gives a snapshot of current perspectives, which can change, but provide the opportunity to discuss how employee attitudes affect job performance.

Two findings of note are that only 14% of those surveyed are "happy at work" and 70% are "not secure in their jobs". The Rutgers report links these conditions to the recent economic recession, so it is not clear how much working conditions influenced workers' opinions, but it is clear that a negative attitude currently pervades.

Research reports a 30% correlation between employee attitudes and productivity, particularly in the areas of employee turnover and absenteeism. While not dramatic the correlation is impactful and researchers are refining how they measure this correlation with the expectation that it is even higher than reported.

Naturally employers want their employees to be as productive as possible and employees, generally, don't want to be miserable at work. What to do? I like the ideas Patrick Lencioni talks about in his book The Three Signs of a Miserable Job.

Lencioni says three things cause employees to be miserable on the job:

  1. feelings of anonymity;
  2. not being able to measure on their own the quality of their work;
  3. and not understanding the relevance of what they do to internal and/or external customers.

Interestingly, and positively, the remedy to these circumstances does not involve money, rather a modified managerial approach.

To address issues of anonymity, the manager needs to learn about the employee's life outside of work. This is not a call to friendship, simply becoming aware the employee's life joys and concerns, and subsequently being mindful of them.

To address issues of measurability, managers need to work with the employee to develop a metric that will allow the employee to measure their performance, on their own, at any time. I know from personal experience how important this is. Managerial feedback is often infrequent and good managers must also provide constructive feedback. Employees relying exclusively on managerial feedback will often go long periods of time not knowing whether they are doing a good job or not. That can be miserable!

To address issues of relevance, managers need to help employees understand how their work is relevant to those affected by their work, either a co-worker who shares responsibility for a work outcome or a customer/client of the employer. Importantly, this extends beyond production and profit. For example, for the attorney who is under a deadline to produce a legal brief, the timely work of his or her legal secretary helps alleviate the stress of the deadline. Understanding that adds relevance and meaning to the legal secretary's work.

While these ideas are presented as managerial actions, employees can certainly develop the concepts of measurability and relevance on their own. It's worth it if one believes better attitudes about work lead to better outcomes of the work done. Makes sense to me!

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