Productivity paradox: Can a recognition program motivate staff?

Employment levels are at record highs and business appears to be booming, but productivity seems to be stuck in a rut

Productivity paradox: Can a recognition program motivate staff?

by Sodexo Engage

When we think about the factors that can affect the economy, what are the first things that come to mind?

Perhaps it’s the rate of inflation? Or maybe it’s the cost of energy, Brexit uncertainty or the cost of borrowing? Regardless, they’re all valid points – but there’s one factor which plays a huge, but mainly hidden part in how the economy performs.

In 2018, an article published in the Independent by an industry expert stated that disengagement costs the UK economy a staggering £340bn (US$437.8bn) annually. In addition, research has shown that when compared to countries such as Canada, Australia and Germany, the UK has the highest rate of unhappiness in the workplace.

These worrying statements were backed-up with fact, too.

In the first quarter of 2019, labour productivity slumped by 0.2% relative to the same period in 2018, but here’s where things started to get a little bit weird, as employment statistics revealed that there is now a record of 24 million full-time jobs in the UK.

So, what’s going on? Employment levels are at record highs and UK business appears to be booming, but productivity seems to be stuck in a rut. How can businesses leaders make sense of these conflicting facts and figures?

READ MORE: Employee motivation - The 7 deadly sins

The productivity paradox
Essentially, what's being shown is that whilst more people are in employment, they’re unproductive and unhappy. In fact, according to the HSE, 15.4 million working days were lost through mental ill-health caused or aggravated by work in 2017/18 – which goes to show, that whilst we may be all hard at work, we’re probably working ourselves into a state of poor mental health, which isn’t great for anyone.

So, this begs the question: What are the long term socio-economic implications of this paradox and could your company be contributing to the issue of poor mental health within the workforce? After all, whether you're managing a small team or heading up a multifaceted organisation, these type of concerns and obstacles can seriously halt your company's ability to meet its objectives.

Experts suggest that due to the current state of the economy, some businesses are taking on more and more staff to counteract the problem of decreased productivity; but it isn’t solving the problem of an unhappy workforce – it’s simply exasperating it.

This tactic also delays the need to make costly investments in upgrading their HR management model; but on a surface level, it looks great for employment statistics: think about it; more jobs and expanding workforce should be a sign of success, right?

However, such practices are simply not sustainable or lucrative enough for organisations that want to scale up and attract the kind of talent that will bring in real ROI. It’s just papering over the cracks and not addressing the real issue at hand, and that’s keeping employees motivated.

What really motivates employees?
In Drive, David Pink's New York Times bestseller, the author/researcher unpacks the three key components of intrinsic motivation:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

He goes onto say that the modern work environment is arguably centred around creativity and can encompass skills such as:

  • Persuasion
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication   
  • Content creation
  • Idea generation

However, these activities can be stifled when your employees aren't granted the autonomy to perform their duties or the opportunity to grow professionally – and this is where productivity can fall into that rut we mentioned earlier.

Modern employees are increasingly looking for purpose and meaning in the career paths they pursue, which makes sense as so much of our lives are inevitably spent at work.

These are all aspects that come into play when endeavouring to keep your staff motivated, engaged and incentivised to perform at their best for your organisation. Which leads nicely onto…

Can an employee recognition program help?
If you've identified that your company's processes don't support your internal stakeholders and enable them to find satisfaction in their job roles, you should consider integrating an employee recognition programme.

An employee recognition programme will help you to reinforce the positive habits you wish to see exemplified by your staff and help them to grow in their role; creating stronger teams, better overall company output and, ultimately, increased ROI for your business.

Alongside the programme, having a well-planned reward strategy could also help you to shift the culture in your organisation; from one of tepid, low-level productivity and employee frustration, to a performance-driven, connected and energised workforce.

But a word of caution: An employee recognition programme isn't about making detached gestures that involve splurging money and giving meaningless incentives. It's a sophisticated tool that needs to be developed and implemented in line with your company's core values.

By making recognition part of your company's processes, you’re showing employees exactly what expectations need to be met, but also ensuring that their engagement and productivity results in positive outcomes for them personally and stronger relationships with their colleagues.

And there’s a great side effect to this approach, too; and that’s the fact that happy employees are easier to retain and in turn, become positive ambassadors for your business – making your business an attractive option for the most talented workers out there!

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