Skip to main content

Who is in charge of productivity?

June 03, 2021
What is at the heart of productivity? It is the way for managers to evaluate performance and compare operations. We can say it relates to the volume produced divided by the cost of production.

In a competitive environment productivity could mean the difference between reporting profits and shuttering an operation. It could mean the difference between getting a raise, a promotion, or being fired. Low productivity brings with it the threat of a “Performance Improvement Plan,” which is an alert to being put on the path to being fired. It also means we either improve performance or we need to look for other work. More options are given to those who produce. So what are you going to do?

For those who are not enjoying their work and know their productivity numbers are in question, this can be a very anxiety producing conversation. Unfortunately, the anxiety works against productivity. Yes, for some it might be enough to do a short-term correction through brute force or force of will. But is that sustainable? Maybe you have been cycling through periods of brute force to get your numbers up and then watch them slowing decline again. Each subsequent cycle the success of increasing productivity through willing the result becomes less successful resulting in a slow declining spiral. This pressure also slowly depletes our energy reserves affecting our moods and our capacities to be with our children and relationships. We don’t smile as easily and are quicker to snap.

The core of anxiety feasts on our lack of confidence in our being able to manage or control the situation. The anxiety activates our bodies and minds to go into defense mode because we feel threatened. When productivity is declining, what we need is the opposite of defending, we need our natural creative skills to see what we can do.

What can we do to affect our productivity?

The first step is to recognize we are anxious and to identify the focus of this anxiety. Anxiety is our body’s way of alerting us to a concern. I was taught, if I feel anxious, ignore it or act like it isn’t there. Instead, I have learned to accept that I feel anxious and determine if this is a real or perceived threat. A real threat refers to the presence of an immediate threat and I need to respond now.

For these circumstances using the fight or flight behaviors is appropriate. If the threat is only perceived, not immediate, the recommended approach is to lower our defenses and calming ourselves. This can be done through breath work and critically viewing the issue recognizing the danger is only perceived. This gives the opportunity to develop alternative responses and craft a plan to take control of the situation and reduce the threat.

Strategies to improving productivity center on adding or enhancing skills, resolving distractions, and taking ownership of the process and ourselves. Working on any or all of these requires access to our creative selves and will return our sense of self and control over the situation. Strategies to add or enhance skills could take the form of attending a training or to reach out to colleagues who are better at a task to learn tricks from them. We could focus on parts of the process which we have let ourselves underperform and figure out how to make this correction. These are areas that we neglected because we thought them to be difficult or unnecessary. When your job is at risk, you don’t have the luxury to question why, you need to produce.

There is also the option to look at the entirety of the role and consider what parts do I do well and enjoy and which are a problem. Is there enough in what I do to find enjoyment or is it time to look for something else? Whether the decision is to adjust what you are doing in the current job or strike off on a quest to find the next job it has come because of your engaging with the problem, not defending against a mythical threat. This is what people who create the lives they love do. Reach out to me if you find yourself in a difficult place at work without knowing what next step will be right for you.