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10 Reasons Associates Are Not Productive and What To Do About It

Posted on 3/29/12 9:30 AM

Do you have a productivity problem?  Are associates having trouble getting all their work done? Is there a project that never seems to get finished, or something that hasn’t even been started? Does it seem it impossible for staff to cross everything off their “to do” lists?  Following are ten examples of possible causes – and suggested solutions.

Too many distractions

A recent survey found that e-mail is one of the biggest distractions in the workplace, followed by the crisis of the day and personal interruptions. According those surveyed, other workplace distractions include unexpected meetings, phone calls, Web surfing, socializing, instant messages and noise.

Solution: As management, do your best to control and limit distractions for your team; don’t be part of the problem.  If you know there is a specific “busy” time of the day or week for them, be conscious of it and avoid contacting them during that time.  Conversely, be aware of and make an effort to reach out to them during their “slow or down” time.  Obviously some issues require immediate attention.  In those circumstances, simply acknowledging the timing and providing insight will help a great deal.  An introductory statement such as, “I know you’re swamped, but this is a really important project because it could mean huge profits for the Company and/or put your store at #1 – if you could get the information in by the end of the day, it would be greatly appreciated”

Lack of Resources 

A carpenter needs a hammer, an accountant needs an adding machine and most associates need a computer. Nevertheless, new associates don't always have what they need to hit the ground running.  

Solution: Find out what associates need to do their jobs better and easier.  If tasks are easier, associates will be more efficient and productive in their work.  Have them submit “supply request lists” weekly or monthly and fill those orders as soon as possible. 

They don't know what they’re doing

There are two main reasons associates may not know enough to perform the job. Either the assignment wasn't clearly stated or they haven't been trained properly. 

Solution: Take the time to first train associates on proper procedure.  Provide them clearly written, user friendly training material.  Present the training verbally upon hiring and at implementation of new/changed procedures and leave them a hard copy of what was covered.  With each new task or assignment, again, take the time to explain it clearly and request they relay the instructions back to you to ensure understanding.  Remain open and accessible to questions.  

They have too much work

Some people have so much work on their plates they couldn't do everything on their “to do” list even if they worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This may happen in any job, but particularly in fields facing a shortage of workers. The result: the frustration of trying one’s best to get everything done but not being able to do so. 

Solution: Communicate!  Ask associates how everything is going.  If they indicate they are swamped, ask what specifically they are working on.  You may be able to help them prioritize their task list – possibly even eliminate one or two tasks.  If nothing can be done to alleviate their work load, provide support.  Express appreciation for their effort and confidence in their ability.  This may be the boost they need to plow through the rest of their “to do” list.      

Poor time-management skills

Workers with good time-management skills do what’s most important, while those with poor time-management skills work on what looks most fun or easy -- then frantically try to catch up on important work that has become urgent because the fun and easy work was done first. 

Solution: As in the solution above, communication is the solution here also.  Essentially, it is at the core of every solution.  Work with the associate on their tasks, ask which they plan to tackle first.  Explain the importance and impact of each task in relation to the organization as a whole.  Clarify deadlines for associates.  They may be struggling with a task that is not scheduled to be implemented for months.  While they may still need to work on it, the clarification may relieve some of the pressure. 

Procrastination

Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? When associates procrastinate, it’s often because they’re afraid the job or the outcome will be unpleasant. For example, if an associate is afraid of failure and fear that no matter what they do it won't be good enough; chances are they'll avoid doing anything. 

Solution: Be as specific as possible when assigning tasks.  Explain what you are looking for in an end result.  Explain why and how the task fits into the larger scheme of things; give the “big picture”.  If it is a very detailed task, check in with the associate along the way; making sure they are on the right track and clarify if they are not. 

Feeling undervalued

If an associate thinks they are underpaid and unappreciated, chances are they aren’t giving 100 percent. Consciously or not, many associates try to “balance the scales” to ensure that what they give the employer is equal to what the employer gives them. 

Solution: The underpaid part might be tricky – pay structure varies from one organization to the next and it may not be within an individual supervisor’s authority to address that. But the underappreciated part is a no-brainer.  Take a moment, literally it takes a moment, to say “thank you, great job, I (we) appreciate it”.  Be specific and sincere when giving praise and give it as often as possible.

Priorities keep changing

Very often in the retail/LP industry associates will be working on Project A when, suddenly they are required to drop everything and work on Project B. When this happens, they may experience stress, which may affect productivity. 

Solution: Provide as much notice as possible to the change in assignments and, as always, communicate the reason for the change.  Offer the associate assistance with transitioning to the new task; if they have to make one more phone call before they change gears for the new task – offer to make that call for them, if feasible.

Burnout

According to the Web site of the American Psychological Association, burnout is emotional exhaustion resulting from overwhelming stress at work. It often results from long hours, stressful deadlines, high expectations, worrying about a project or taking on more work than you can handle -- in other words, working too hard. 

Solution: These types of situations are usually temporary.  They might be caused by a special project or staffing issue.  Therefore reassure the associate that there is “light at the end of the tunnel”; that ‘the project will be over in three months and we just have to do our best to get everything covered in that time’.  Or keep them posted on the hiring status if it is a staffing issue.  Again, communication is key.  People feel better about tough situations of they know what is going on. 

Being rewarded for completing an assignment… with more work

Oddly enough, many companies “reward” their hardest working associates with more work. No good deed goes unpunished, right?! It’s no wonder associates sometimes are not motivated to work hard.

Solution: If possible, provide an actual reward for going ‘above and beyond’.  Granting a day off after an extremely taxing project or a gift card as a small token of appreciation are possibilities.  If nothing else, acknowledge the effort and hard work and express appreciation for it.  A gesture that costs nothing is praising and thanking the associate in writing publically; copying the associate’s peers and the executives of the organization on the note.

The main theme throughout all the suggested solutions is communication.  It is a very powerful and effective tool.  The two most powerful words in the English language just might be PLEASE and THANK YOU (if used correctly of course).

Written by Claire Gibbons, Director of Human Resources

Topics: training and awareness