Often, in a corporate setting, we do things a certain way because that's how we've always done them.  Employees are expected to fall in line, and we don't give them a lot of choice and flexibility because it's easier to simply keep the status quo.  But choice is an integral element of human satisfaction.  Simply giving your employees more choice in their day-to-day activities can automatically increase their happiness, engagement, and productivity.

4 Choices You Can Offer Your Employees:

1. What They Work On

Too often, an employee's duties are based off a template position description, without consideration of the actual individual's strengths or preferences.  Sit down with your employees one-on-one and ask them which parts of their jobs they love, and which tasks they would most like to delegate or trade with someone else.  You may find that your office manager actually enjoys stocking the snack room, freeing up your receptionist to work on the more challenging accounting projects she's been learning to tackle.

The classic image of corporate America is a row of cubicles: workers segmented in tiny uniform units like bees in a hive, pounding away on their keyboards with minimum interaction, minimum distraction, and maximum focus.  But corporate America is being transformed as cutting edge technology companies like Google and Aetna strive make their work environments as collaborative, interactive, and stimulating as possible. This is in response to a cavalcade of studies indicating that employees perform better in more flexible and positive work environments.  For instance, at Aetna almost half the staff telecommutes to allow for family time and mediate the stress of commuting.  This strategy is likely thanks to data like that garned by Stanford that showed a 13% increase in productivity among call center representatives who were allowed to work from home.

3 Ways To Structure Your Work Environment To Improve Employee Productivity:

1. Create Opportunities For Employee Interaction

Large break-rooms with amenities like foosball tables, free healthy snacks, and massage chairs may seem like a dangerous distraction.  But in actuality, creating opportunities for your employees to relax and interact is one of the most effective ways to encourage work-related strategizing.  Organizational guru John Seely Crown was the director of Xerox when he discovered a fascinating fact about his employees: when they hung out in the coffee room, ostensibly just wasting time or shooting the breeze, they were actually engaging in highly focused and productive conversations about on-the-job problems and solutions.  Ben Weber, CEO of Sociometric Solutions, went to great lengths to organize employee coffee breaks at the same time, so employees would have the best chance to chat, interact, bond, and formulate.

Hiring is one of the most important processes at any company.  Employees are your lifeblood, and if you can’t find, hire, and retain great people, then your organization will never be successful. But how do you know when a candidate is really the right person for the job?  It’s easy for mediocre applicants to talk a good game on a resume, or to answer simple interview questions correctly.

7 Hiring Rules To Find And Hire Incredible Employees

1.     Always Use A Hiring Team, Not A Single Hiring Manager

Check out James Suroweicki’s The Wisdom Of Crowds.  Or let me summarize for you: groups make better decisions than individuals.  Individuals are subject to personal biases, snap decisions, and illogical preferences.  When hiring teams work together to evaluate candidates, they are more objective, more thorough, and more methodical.

If you’ve ever heard the statistic “80% of communication is non-verbal”, you're hearing the work of anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell, who pioneered the original body language research in the 1970s and 80s.  Birdwhistell discovered all kinds of counterintuitive facts about human communication, most of which are extremely consequential in the business world. For instance, it’s true that first impressions are made in less than 4 minutes, and it’s also true that while the person with the best argument usually wins in a phone conversation, this does not continue when people speak face-to-face.  That’s because when you’re actually standing in the same room as someone, both of you are responding to over 250,000 different facial expressions and gestures that influence what you think, how you feel, and how you interpret the other person’s intentions. A good manager is a good communicator, and you can’t communicate effectively with your employees if your body is sending messages without your consent.

As we've talked about before on this blog, the industry standard for an employee rewards program is 1-2% of payroll.  But not every company can afford to spend that kind of money.  So if you want to find a way to engage and motivate your employees without spending a lot of money, here are a few options to show your employees you appreciate them without breaking the bankl

5 Ways To Reward and Motivate Your Employees On A Budget:

1. Organize Office Activities

Organizing activities your employees can participate in as a group is a great way to build camaraderie and help your workers blow off steam.  It creates a fun and friendly work environment, and most of the time it barely costs any money.  Try lunchtime yoga, a fun run, parking lot basketball, or Friday afternoon Poker.  Square 2 Marketing in Warrington, PA regularly holds video game tournaments for their employees.  You'd be amazed how your employees will appreciate these little breaks, and they'll be refreshed, recharged, and full of new ideas when they get back to work.

Everybody has a story to tell about the best or worst boss they ever had.  It's not easy being in a position of authority - employees will naturally vilify you or put you on a pedestal, and even simple interactions can be fraught when you hold  power over their livelihood.  It's an unequal relationship, and thus the onus is on the manager to ensure proper communication, motivation, and positive interactions.  It helps to think back to your own former overlords to pinpoint exactly what it was that made your old boss either the best or the worst person you ever worked for. 4 Lessons I Learned From My Bosses: 1. Let Your Employees Choose Their Rewards While I was still in high school, I interned at an engineering firm.  Every Christmas the firm would give their employees a paid week of vacation.  One Christmas, the employees were grumbling about the lack of a monetary bonus at Christmastime.  My boss caught wind of the discontent and called everyone into the conference room for a meeting.  He explained to the employees that giving everyone a paid week of vacation cost the company over $50,000.  The firm could not afford to give cash bonuses on top of the vacation time.  However, my boss said if the employees preferred to take only 3 days off over Christmas, they could receive a $500 bonus.  The employees voted and over 90% preferred the cash bonus.  The company was more productive, didn't lose any money, and the employees were thrilled.

In a prime work environment, the first few hours of the day should be the most productive.  Employees are fresh, rested, and not yet distracted with projects, emails, and demands.  However, at many workplaces it can take an hour or two for people to get going in the morning.  This is not only time wasted, it's some of the most precious hours whittled away.  So here are a few tips for motivating your employees to focus and be productive from the moment they walk in the door:

How To Set The Tone For Your Workday:

1. Get There First

You are the example of how you expect your employees to start their day.  If you saunter in twenty minutes late, Starbucks coffee and cruller in hand, and then you hole up in your office for two hours sifting through your email, there's a good chance your employees will take the same attitude toward addressing their day.

When we talk about motivating employees, pushing them to achieve, and boosting workplace productivity, managers sometimes get the impression that the best way to make your company more profitable is to drive your employees to the very limit of their capabilities.  It's true that employees can be encouraged to accomplish amazing things, but applying endless pressure and extreme expectations can backfire when employees become exhausted, discouraged, and too worn down to function effectively. Consider these statistics:
  • 1/3 of employees eat lunch at their desk
  • More than 50% of employees work during their vacations
  • 57% of salaried workers don't take all their allotted time off
  • 1 in 4 employees receives no paid days off, not even holidays
  • Too little sleep is the #1 cause of employee burnout

Employee incentive programs are extremely important for improving morale and driving results in the workplace.  Most companies now offer type of employee reward program, and those programs are usually pretty basic.  It's good to keep your incentive program simple so it's easy for your employees to understand, follow, and succeed.  However, some programs are too simple in that they only reward two-dimensional behaviors: i.e. sell the most memberships, get a prize.  It's important to also reward more complex workplace behaviors with farther-reaching results.