Focused thinking can make meaningful progress on the most challenging but impactful projects
Increasing employee engagement is a permanent fixture for the focus of most human resource professionals, according to Amantha Imber, founder of Inventium.
Imber cited research from Gallup which found that companies with employee engagement scores in the top percentile were 22% more profitable than those with engagement scores in the bottom percentile.
Customer loyalty is also 10% higher in the highly engaged group. Engaged employees are more likely to go the extra mile and are also less likely to leave a company.
“We know it’s important, yet most companies are unable to achieve more than single digit gains over the course of 12 months,” said Imber.
“This is despite introducing initiatives that are specifically designed to boost engagement, such as recognition programs, career development strategies, team building, and so on.”
In research conducted by Inventium in collaboration with the University of New South Wales, it was found that focusing on traditional engagement boosting activities might not be the best way to go.
The research examined the impact of a six-week initiative called the Workday Reinvention program. The program was designed to help knowledge workers (re)learn how to do deep, focused work and reduce how reactive they were to digital distractions.
Not only did the program increase productivity by 22%, but the company achieved huge gains in employee engagement within just a six-week period.
Compared to pre-program, at the end of the six weeks, employees felt 9% more absorbed in their work, job satisfaction was 10% higher, and energy levels had increased by 24%.
Imber outlines the following strategies that participants reported having the biggest impact on not only their productivity, but also their happiness at work.
They prioritised Deep Work over Shallow Work
In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport suggests that because of the distractions technology imposes on us, we spend the majority of our time doing Shallow Work - work that is non-cognitively demanding.
And because of the constant distractions, we have forgotten how to truly engage in Deep Work - that is, focused thinking where we make meaningful progress on our most challenging but impactful projects.
Because many of us have been conditioned into fitting bits of Deep Work around lots of Shallow Work, many people often find it hard to spend large chunks of time focusing.
The Workday Reinvention program educated the group on the distinction behind these two modes of work, and helped them create strategies to prioritise Deep Work.
They restructured their day to be in line with their Chronotype
Most workplaces are structured around the hours of 9am to 5pm. And while workplaces are increasingly claiming to have flexible working policies, working hours still default to 9 to 5.
The problem with these hours is that they may not align to the natural peaks and troughs of energy that individuals in your team run on, otherwise known as their Chronotype.
According to chronobiologists Martha Merrow and Till Roenneberg, approximately 14% of people are Larks. Their peak time is in the morning. At the other end of the spectrum are Owls (around 21% of the population) who come to life at night.
Everyone else falls into the “middle birds” category and are somewhere in between in terms of energy peaks.
By structuring the workday around people’s Chronotype, performance lifted due to aligning work tasks with when energy was at its peak. People also experienced less stress through not having their natural circadian rhythms be out of sync with their workplace’s office hours.
They batched email and meetings
Many productivity experts talk about batching emails. But batching meetings can have an equally big impact.
Research from Ohio State University has shown that when you have a meeting coming up in the next hour or two, people get 22% less work done compared to if there was no upcoming meeting.
The Workday Reinvention program educated participants on the impact of batching both email and meetings.
This leads to people feeling more in control of their day, and enabled them to assign large chunks of time to engaging in Deep Work.
They eliminated digital distractions
Six minutes. This is the amount of time people can stay focused on a task before succumbing to the lour of email or messaging apps, according to research by Rescue Time.
After analysing 185 million working hours’ worth of data, the research revealed that people check email or instant messenger every six minutes, on average.
The research also found that we only spend 2.8 hours per day doing “productive” work. Given the average American works 47 hours per week, most of us spending less than a third of our working hours doing focused, impactful work.
The program taught people several strategies for eliminating the digital distractions (email, Slack, Instant Messenger, social media) that invade our workdays and make it almost impossible to engage in large amounts of deep, focused work.
So when you are planning your engagement boosting activities for next year, remember that it may be as simple as changing the way people approach their work, as opposed to changing the work itself.