10 Ways You're Making Your Employees Less Productive

Written By: Alison Green
September 24, 2013
5 min read

If you’re like most managers, you think a lot about whether your employees are being as productive as you need. But have you ever looked at the other side of that equation and wondered if you’re standing in the way of their productivity yourself?

Here are 10 ways you might be derailing your employees’ productivity.

1. Being a bottleneck that prevents your staff from moving work forward. Do you insist on approving every minor detail or a project when you have experienced, competent employees who could easily handle those details themselves? Or maybe you really do need to approve work, but it sits in your in-box for weeks because you’re swamped with other things (or, dare we say it, less organized than you should be). Whatever the reason, if you’re acting as a bottleneck and keeping your staff from being able to drive work forward, it’s a sign that something needs to change – either you need to give them more authority to act without your approval or you need to reallocate your time so that you’re able to get them what they need without unreasonably long delays.

2. Not truly delegating responsibilities. Too often, managers use their staffers as “helpers” to the manager, rather than giving them real ownership and responsibility. This leaves the manager bearing the burden of spotting what needs to be done and assigning the work, and leaves staff members feeling that they’re only responsible for executing the specific tasks the manager assigns and aren’t empowered to act more broadly. It’s the difference between asking your assistant to make sure there are enough pads and pens in the conference room for an upcoming meeting versus telling her that she is in charge of all logistics for the meeting. If you tell her the latter, she might notice that while there are enough pads and pens, there’s trash all over the room and the speaker phone isn’t working – and fix those things proactively. (Bonus: Most employees will be happier with broader responsibilities than just executing individual tasks.)

3. Not conveying clear expectations. If you don’t communicate clear, concrete goals for staff members’ work, and ensure you have a shared understanding of what success in each role would look like, you’re falling down on one of your most important jobs. A good test: If you and your staff member were both asked what’s most important for them to achieve this year, would your answers match? If not, chances are low that you’re going to get the level of performance you’re hoping for.

4. Not giving useful feedback. If you want employees to perform at the highest level they can, you need to give them clear and direct feedback about what they’re doing well and what they could do better. You will get better work from people by helping them develop their strengths and tackle problem areas. (And remember that feedback isn’t just for criticisms – as the old saying goes, “Praise what you want to see more of.”)

5. Not allowing people to carve out time to concentrate. Are you guilty of always stopping by for impromptu conversations rather than scheduling regular one-on-ones? Have you discouraged employees who wanted to block off quiet work periods on their calendars, telling them instead to be accessible to colleagues at all times? If so, you might be impeding your employees’ productivity. While people of course need to be accessible and you don’t want to ban spontaneous conversations, in many jobs you need to balance that against employees’ need to focus. If you’re constantly interrupting their workflow or insisting that others be allowed to, their inability to deeply focus will be reflected in your team’s output.

6. Not asking people what they need to do their jobs better. You might think that you already know what your team’s needs are – but you might be surprised by what you’d find out if you asked. Many people won’t speak up on their own if they need new software, a faster computer, or other tools to do their job – but if you ask, they’ll often tell you.

7. Not letting people telecommute when the work allows it. Guess what happens when you let people work from home when they need to? Instead of people calling in sick or taking a full day off to wait for a repair person, they often still work on those days, because they can do it from home. (And what’s more, telecommuting is a benefit that earns many employees’ loyalty.)

8. Insisting on doctor’s notes in order to take sick days. If your company requires employees to present proof of illness when they need to take a sick day, it’s time to rethink that policy. Having to go to the doctor’s office when you have a cold just so that you can get a doctor’s note to show your employer is insulting, isn’t productive – and it often results in employees coming to work sick, when they can’t focus and can’t produce at normal levels. It also means that illnesses get spread to more employees – which means more people not working at full speed.

9. Scrimping on training. As the economy has pushed companies to try to do more with less, budgets for training and development have taken a major hit. As a result, employees are often expected to produce results without getting much (or any) training – which can lead to serious inefficiencies, as people struggle to figure out software or other key elements of their job on their own.

10. Creating a climate of fear and anxiety. Ruling through rigid control, negativity, and a climate of anxiety and fear might ensure that no one steps out of line – but it also ensures that employees won’t bring up new ideas for fear of being attacked and won’t be honest about problems – which will limit what your entire team is able to accomplish. (Moreover, very few great people with options are going to want to work for a fear-based manager.)

Written By: Alison Green
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.