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Productivity isn’t a puzzle – just ask your people

from  March 18, 2020 | 3 min read

Engagement is a two-way street

Have you seen headlines about a productivity puzzle? In the US productivity grew by just 1.4% last year; in the UK, it's increased by only 0.3% in the previous decade. People can’t understand why. So, we thought we’d look into it.

Everyone knows one of the great drivers of productivity is employee engagement. In our research, we asked 1,800 people in all kinds of organizations around the world – why aren’t employees more engaged? The answer was shockingly simple.

Companies have forgotten that employee engagement is a two-way street. Of course, companies want their employees to be engaged; the trouble is, companies don’t engage with employees – or only half-heartedly.

The barriers to engagement

The four barriers to employee engagement our research revealed are:

  1. CEOs are too remote.
  2. Organizations don’t ask employees their views.
  3. If they do ask, they don’t listen to the answer and don’t act on what employees say.
  4. Most managers don’t really trust employees to make decisions.

As a result of the organization’s wishy-washy approach to engagement, employees are – not surprisingly – in two minds about engaging back. While many would like to make helpful suggestions about how the company could do things better, they’re disinclined to speak out.

Employees don’t think the company will take any notice of them. They suspect that unless they’re the same age, level, gender and social background as the top brass, no one will take them very seriously.

What a shame. What a waste of human potential. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to fix.

Cultural barriers are easy to overcome

The first thing you can do to improve employee engagement is to make some simple tweaks to the organization’s culture.

CEOs should make themselves more visible and accessible, especially to employees lower down in the ranks. This will set the tone for more open dialogue and let people know they’re valued.

The organization should regularly ask employees what they think, inviting constructive criticism of the status quo. Crucially, you should listen to what they say and act on it – or if you can't work on it, explain why.

The organization should encourage ideas and initiatives. Managers should trust their people to make decisions. Beyond paying lip service to 'empowerment' and 'autonomy', managers should tell employees: you decide.

Encourage your people to experiment with new ideas. Give them permission to try and fail – as long as they learn and improve in the process. Foster an atmosphere of no fear and no blame.

Technology can make it easier to experiment

The second thing that can make a big difference is technology. Giving people access to technology with data on what works and what doesn't, will provide them with the evidence to back up their suggestions.

And software that’s not hard-coded but easy to change without relying on external consultants will make it easier to try out employee ideas for better ways of doing things.

Software like Unit4’s, which puts People Experience first, is intuitive to use and simple to change. It automates dreary tasks. People find it liberating to use because it makes work easy and frees them up to get on with the exciting aspects of the job.

This releases their enthusiasm. They feel more personally invested in what the organization is trying to do. They go the extra mile. They’re engaged.

Find out all about it

We think you’ll find our research revealing and encouraging. You can start with the Executive Summary or go straight for the Full Report.

If you’re more of a visual person, you may prefer our Infographic or our CEO’s, Mike Ettling’s, video.

Mike’s also written a blog setting out his views on what organizations need to do to release the potential of their employees and boost productivity in the process.

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Image of Lisa Dodman - Chief People Officer at Unit4

Lisa Dodman

Unit4 Chief People Success Officer

Lisa has spent 25 years in HR working globally within generalist roles, and 18 years in the software industry largely in ERP and PLM organizations. Used to defining strategy and driving business transformations, Lisa has been instrumental since joining Unit4 in 2015, refocusing the business on talent enablement, leadership development, millennial hiring and engagement