employee productivity, worker well-being and what you can do to support both.

Employee productivity has been a concern since the first craftsman took an assistant under his wing to increase output and revenues. The history of human commerce and industry is the history of chasing ever-increasing productivity. The cotton gin, the assembly line, the personal computer—these are all parts of the history of innovation that helped people make or do more faster.

Today's manufacturing and industrial professionals and companies are also part of that history. In fact, it's an interesting time for productivity, particularly from a human resources perspective:

  • Productivity is more important than ever
  • Employee well-being is a critical concern for many organizations
  • HR leaders have realized that these two things are closely linked

Discover more about these three facts and the lessons they have to teach about worker productivity below.

employee productivity is more important than ever

Here are some facts about the requirement for increased productivity experienced by almost all businesses globally, and particularly in manufacturing and other industries where remote work is less of an option.

  • customers are more demanding. Big box stores, large online retailers and an instant gratification culture fed constantly by the internet means consumers and other customers are less inclined to wait for what they want or need.
  • budgets are tighter. A race to zero in pricing, customer demands for greater value, increased competition, fewer resources due to the pandemic and other factors have forced many businesses to tighten belts. A Gartner report in 2020 indicated that CFOs were aggressively reigning in costs, with some cutting spending by 25% for the year due to the pandemic. If you're working with less money, you're not alone. But if you're like most of your competitors, you also can't let those resource issues stop you from producing.
  • talent is harder to come by. Getting good people into your workplace on a consistent basis has always been a challenge, but following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be fighting health concerns and fears on top of everything else. According to one PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, 80% of CEOs are worried about the availability of key skills. Still...lack of workers on hand doesn't mean you don't have consumer demand to meet.

These are just a few in a long line of facts that all lead to the same conclusion. Organizations are being challenged to do more with less. And that means employee productivity needs to be as high as possible: Maximizing each worker's input means you can do more with less.

worker well-being is a high priority for most organizations

At the same time, we're not living in the time of the cotton gin or the original manufacturing lines of the industrial revolution. Workers and their advocates fought for better working conditions over a century ago and, in some cases, continue to do so today. But most employers understand that worker well-being is actually something that's good for everyone. 

Here are just a few reasons worker well-being is a high priority for most businesses today:

  • healthy workers are present workers. Employees that are able to attend to mental and physical health are more likely to show up for shifts on a regular basis. That's great for productivity and consistency of the workforce. Research on the health of the Australian workforce, for example, found that unwell employees called in as much as 9x more often than healthy workers. And in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that women who are obese have an average of up to one week more of sick days than women who are not.
  • happier workers tend to stick around longer. High employee morale and well-being leads to lower attrition rates. Since it costs more to hire a new employee than keep an existing one, that's obviously good for the bottom line. Plus, your tried-and-true employees are also typically more productive than someone who is still in training.
  • people talk when you care about employees (or not). Your employer brand is your passport along any hiring journey, and without a strong employer reputation, you may not be able to hire high-quality talent. That can leave you straggling behind the competition.
  • employee wellness is a popular perk. Wellness, work-life balance and other positive life perks aren't just for the C-suite these days. Even in manufacturing and similar industries, you may find more job applicants wondering how working for you can improve their life other than providing a consistent paycheck for it. According to this Randstad study, 62% of human capital leaders say a wellness program is extremely or very important to attracting talent.

As you can see, when you start addressing your employees well-being, you're indirectly addressing a lot of things that are linked to productivity. That includes attendance, employee morale and your ability to hire and keep the right people. But the ties between worker well-being and productivity go even farther than that.

the link between worker well-being and productivity

Let's dive deeper into this topic to understand exactly how worker well-being impacts productivity. We gathered some statistics from research done by organizations in multiple countries dealing with worker well-being. You can read these facts below as well as their link with productivity.

physical health supports productivity

facts: Researchers from Brigham Young University, the Center for Health Research at Healthways and Health Enhancement Research Organization looked at how healthy physical habits impacted the workforce. Here are a few of their findings:

  • Healthy eating habits boosted the likelihood of increased worker performance by 25%
  • Exercising at least three times a week correlated to a 15% increase in the chance of better job performance
  • Workers who ate well and exercised were 27% less likely to be absent from work

direct tie-in to productivity: People who feel physically well can generally work faster, more effectively and longer. Think about this: If you're fighting a migraine, dealing with tummy troubles or groaning about pain in your leg, how effective are you going to be at the task in front of you? The answer for most people is that any health concern or symptom drives down their attention, motivation and ability to perform work.

employer takeaways: Consider how you can support employees in taking care of themselves. That might include options such as offering wellness-related benefits or programs, encouraging movement breaks or providing opportunities for healthy snacks or food in the workplace.

Do you have a productivity issue? Download our checklist of nine signs that you have workforce productivity problems to give yourself a heads up so you can start working on those issues before they become bigger problems.

happier employees are more productive workers

facts: A study from Oxford found that workers who rated their happiness as high were 13% more productive than those who said they were sad or had low happiness levels. 

direct tie-in to productivity: People who are happier tend to be better able to focus on what they're doing. They may also be more motivated, especially if they're happy with their job. That means they want to be there, and doing a good job ensures they can stick around and reap potential benefits, such as promotions, raises or bonuses.

employer takeaways: You can't magically make unhappy people happy, but you can create policies that help workers address their own level of happiness. One example might be  flexible scheduling that lets employees take advantage of other opportunities or attend to personal matters. Other examples are  educational benefits that make it possible for workers to better themselves and social opportunities that create more cohesive teams and enjoyable working environments. 

untreated mental health issues reduce productivity

facts: The American Psychiatric Association notes that unresolved depression can lead to a reduction in productivity of as much as 35% for a worker. But around 80% of individuals with mental health diagnoses report increased performance at work after getting proper treatment via therapy, medication and other methods.

direct tie-in to productivity: Mental health issues—diagnosed or not—can have a huge impact on cognitive functions including memory, critical thinking and focus. When those functions aren't working ideally, it can be hard for a worker to pay attention to the task at hand. Mental health conditions can also lead to physical symptoms such as fatigue that can drive down a worker's productivity. Add in the fact that when you're depressed or anxious it's difficult to concentrate or care about everyday things like work, and you can see how mental health is a huge factor in productivity. 

employer takeaways: Think about ways you can help employees care for their mental health. Employee assistance programs are just one option. Many of the same programs and options you might offer to help people be happier at work are the ones that might also help them maintain positive mental health. 

stressed workers aren't productive workers

facts: Yale University conducted a survey and found that almost 30% of workers have stress specifically related to their jobs.  

direct tie-in to productivity: Negative stress, no matter the cause, can have both physical and mental health consequences. And chronic stress is especially problematic, so if your workers are experiencing regular stress from their jobs, they may not be thinking or feeling their best. As discussed above, that makes a difference in how productive they'll likely be. Plus, if stress crosses the line into burn-out, workers just may give up altogether, showing up to punch a clock without worrying about how much they actually get done.

employer takeaways: Be cognizant of workplace stress and how your processes and company culture might be driving it. Certainly, you want to hold workers up to high standards and work with people to help them achieve personal excellence. But taking time to make sure goals are realistic but challenging, that you have the right people in various positions, that communication is open and clear and that team fit is a part of your hiring processes can all add up to reduce unnecessary stress in the workplace.

Is employee productivity a problem for your business?

While every employer should consider the well-being of workers, not all organizations have a productivity problem today. You can't tackle a problem if you don't know it exists, so it's important to assess  whether your workforce is appropriately productive. For instance, you can ask yourself these questions:

  • Are the customers or clients satisfied with our products and services?
  • Is your business making money, and are labor costs aligning with expectations? 
  • Are you able to meet goals and requirements with your current labor force?
  • Is each team or each person living up to the requirements you set for them?

These are great metrics for gauging productivity, but they're not the only questions you should be asking. We’ve created a checklist of nine signs that you have workforce productivity problems to give yourself a heads up so you can start working on those issues before they become bigger problems.

about the author
sandra ebbers
sandra ebbers

sandra ebbers

vp global concept inhouse & large accounts

Sandra is responsible for the implementation of the inhouse concept worldwide. This business concept adds value to large organizations by optimizing their workforce and guiding flex workers in a cost efficient way of working.