How leaders can increase productivity

When the pandemic hit and thousands and thousands of white-collar employees abruptly started working from house, leaders anticipated productivity to plummet. So it got here as a nice shock when productivity, unshackled by the buildings of the workplace, really elevated 5% in 2020, based on Bloomberg Information.

Was that increase in productivity the results of a lower in commutes from throughout city to throughout the corridor?

Not precisely. Analysis exhibits an even bigger issue at play: autonomy.


A way of management, or the facility to determine, is a key human want. Should you’ve ever tried to decorate a two-year-old, you’ve noticed the innate human yearning for autonomy. Should you haven’t, think about a teary-eyed, red-faced little individual angrily insisting on carrying their snow boots regardless that it’s 80 levels outdoors.

As we develop up, we ultimately study to decorate ourselves appropriately, however we by no means outgrow that need to exert management over our personal lives.

It’s no shock, then, that when folks feel like they have a choice in the way in which they perform their work, research present they’re extra engaged, dedicated, and productive. In response to neuroscientist Amy Arnsten, Ph.D. professor of neuroscience and psychology at Yale College, even delicate, uncontrollable stress can trigger a decline in cognitive features akin to problem-solving. However once we even have “the phantasm that we’re in management, our cognitive features are preserved.”

Certainly, based on a number of research printed within the Journal of Experimental Psychiatry, when workers in three industrial places of work within the U.Ok. and the Netherlands have been granted the liberty to brighten their austere workspaces, their productivity rose 25%. The researchers concluded that when workers are allowed to decide on their very own atmosphere, they’re extra productive.

Figuring out this, there are a number of methods leaders can increase employees’ sense of autonomy and maximize worker engagement and efficiency.

Worth enter from workers

When folks have the prospect to make small selections, they really feel like they’ve “pores and skin within the sport,” a sense that retains them engaged and striving towards a collective consequence.


Take James, a supervisor at a tool manufacturing firm. James was tasked with growing packaging to guard a slimmed-down model of a tool. Ordinarily, he would simply have advised his group how you can proceed. However James acknowledged the chance to present them some sudden autonomy, so as an alternative of giving them directions, he determined to ask for his or her enter.

Excited to contribute, the group tossed concepts round and James stored quiet till it was time to approve a plan.  Inside a month of James asking his group to develop new packaging to guard the system, they’d designed and examined new packaging that protected their product, and value much less to ship. With the autonomy to resolve the issue, the group developed an answer that was higher than what James would have instructed: reconfigured kind inserts in a smaller, lighter field that saved on transport prices.

By giving his workers a voice within the decision-making course of, James reaped the advantages that researchers Rebecca Johannsen and Paul J. Zak noticed once they examined the connection between autonomy and productivity: workers and groups with a excessive sense of autonomy are extra modern on account of their “larger persistence in overcoming issues for initiatives they management.”

Let go and belief

Many leaders imagine they should micromanage their workers to make sure that work will get achieved. However that method can backfire given the mind’s innate drive for autonomy. Leaders don’t have to decide on between micromanaging and giving workers free rein. As a substitute, loosening the reins can create alternatives to rethink outdated methods of doing enterprise.

Kelly, a supervisor at a name middle, was intrigued when Michelle, one in all her customer support reps, approached her with an concept to scale back excessive turnover charges. Michelle had a hunch that giving customer support reps a small quantity of autonomy would assist cut back turnover.

Michelle observed that one of the vital frequent complaints amongst customer support reps was that they wasted a lot of their time calming down indignant prospects who needed to undergo a gauntlet of automated menus and lengthy maintain instances, as an alternative of spending their time resolving prospects’ service points. Day after day, prospects loudly vented their frustrations to reps, who in flip, felt abused.

To Michelle, it appeared as if customer support reps have been held chargeable for retaining prospects with out being given the authority to truly serve them. To alter this, Kelly let Michelle run a 30-day experiment geared toward overhauling two practices reps hated: cut-off dates and holds.

When the experiment started, customer support reps’ efficiency was judged by the variety of calls they deal with per shift (extra is best) and the time every name took (much less is best). This inspired reps to finish calls even when the shopper’s drawback wasn’t solved. When dissatisfied prospects referred to as again, they have been typically angrier and extra abusive.

So she proposed that her group be evaluated based on the variety of instances a buyer referred to as (fewer is best), reasonably than the period of time spent per name and the variety of calls answered in a shift. This manner, taking extra time to resolve buyer issues wouldn’t penalize reps. Kelly may simply monitor that per-customer metric with a report that confirmed what number of instances a buyer referred to as every day or week.

Michelle additionally proposed that reps get to decide on how lengthy to place prospects on maintain. Reps may then determine whether or not to interrupt the maintain music to explain the assessments that have been working, thank prospects for his or her loyalty, or ask about native climate–something to guarantee the shopper that somebody was working to assist them.

After experimenting with the brand new efficiency metrics and maintain procedures, Kelly discovered the brand new procedures made customer support reps really feel like they’d the facility to truly present customer support. Name instances doubled on common as a result of reps may take the time to resolve prospects’ issues. And since prospects’ issues have been solved, call-backs have been decreased by greater than 80%. Upon seeing the outcomes of Michelle’s experiment, Kelly couldn’t wait to roll out the brand new practices to all of the customer support representatives she managed.


Selection inside boundaries

Some leaders hear autonomy and consider anarchy. However as creator Daniel H. Pink put it: “Management results in compliance; autonomy results in engagement.” Overwhelmingly, analysis signifies that organizations profit when their workers have not less than some autonomy.

That’s why it’s necessary for leaders to determine what workers can select. In the event that they should be on a manufacturing facility ground, for instance, can they determine how you can deal with particular duties? Maybe they can select to work 9 a.m. to five p.m. or 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., or to work a month of six-day weeks after which take 5 consecutive days off.

It’s price determining the place your workers can train freedom of selection, even in small measures. It may result in huge advantages.

This article initially appeared on and is reprinted with permission.