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8 Common Workplace Productivity Killers (And What You Can Do About Them)

8 Common Workplace Productivity Killers (And What You Can Do About Them)

Any way you cut it lost productivity in the workplace is bad news for business.

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According to a Gallup report, disengaged employees cost the U.S. anywhere from $483 – $605 billion per year in lost productivity.

So, what gives? What exactly are workers doing wrong?

To start, workers are human. And humans tend to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of their day-to-day activities. Getting distracted, falling into a rut, and losing track of tasks are just some of the issues workers run into. In short, people fall into the productivity killers trap all the time.

For a productive workplace, familiarize yourself with the top productivity killers. That way, you can weed them out and encourage productivity among your employees.  

How to identify and quash workplace productivity killers

Workplace productivity killers don’t just absorb your business’s time – they suck up your money, too.

If you think there’s room for improvement in your workplace (and who doesn’t?), then take a peek to find out what you can do to combat each productivity killer.  

1. Disengagement

Engagement and productivity are intertwined. The more excited an employee is about their job, the more likely they’ll be productive at work.

Gallup found that engagement leads to higher productivity – and 21% higher profitability. But the cost of disengagement goes even further. It could lead to high turnover rates, which further hurt your business’s productivity levels. 

Unfortunately, only 34% of U.S. workers are engaged. This could be the result of poor employee development, benefits, management, feedback, workplace culture, or another type of underlying issue.

As an employee becomes more and more disengaged, you’ll probably see their productivity levels drop pretty quickly. They might take frequent breaks, zone out, or work at a snail’s pace. 

Nothing kills productivity like a disengaged employee.

The (not-so) quick fix for disengagement

It’s not your job to force employees to engage with their work. But, there are a few things you can do to improve engagement in the workplace:

  1. Offer benefits employees want
  2. Lend an ear for questions, comments, and concerns
  3. Encourage interoffice collaboration and relationships
  4. Make sure your employees know how their work impacts the business

The best cure for disengagement is to establish a culture of employee engagement. This can take time and energy, so be patient for best results. 

2. Workplace distractions

One study found that 50% of people who get distracted in the workplace experience significantly less productivity.

Image Source: Udemy

And let’s be honest – most people get distracted at least once a day on the job. That means your business’s productivity is likely taking a hit on the daily.


So when it comes to distractions, who’s the culprit?

Distractions are everywhere, and they can come in many shapes and sizes. In the workplace, here are just a few things that might steal your employees’ attention:

  • Noisy co-workers
  • Social media
  • The internet
  • Text messages
  • Instant messaging
  • Water cooler talk
  • Dogs in the office
  • Office activities
  • Snacks

Sure, not all distractions are bad. Some “distractions” can actually improve a worker’s productivity. Maybe that’s why only 50% of people who get distracted find their productivity slipping…

Use distractions to your advantage

Not all distractions are bad. Some of them can be a great way for employees to power through the rest of the day or come up with innovative ideas.

Here’s the ticket: some distractions are always bad, some are OK in moderation, and some can be great. You can sort distractions under the following three categories:

  • Distractions you discourage
  • Distractions you limit
  • Distractions you embrace

Cut out (i.e., discourage) the distractions that are bad, like gossiping. Limit other distractions, like addressing personal business on company time. And, embrace the distractions that could lead to surges in productivity, like a team-building activity.

3. Lack of recognition

Employees who don’t feel recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit within the next year. Talk about a buzzkill to your business’s productivity. 

How often do you recognize your staff? If you can’t remember the last time you gave someone a company-wide shoutout, handed out a congratulatory bonus, or even told them Job well done, you may need to step up your recognition efforts.

Employees who feel recognized at work are more engaged, productive, and enthusiastic about the relationship between their role and the company’s success.

On the other hand, employees who don’t feel recognized may feel like it doesn’t matter whether they do great work or OK work. And they might start giving you just OK work more and more.

A little goes a long way

There are countless articles about how you can boost productivity by giving employees the recognition and rewards they deserve. If you don’t take my word for it, you can Google it.

And if you believe in the power of recognition in relation to boosting productivity, here are a few simple tips to get started:

  • Acknowledge your employees at the beginning and end of the day
  • Recognize employees in meetings or company updates
  • Reward employees with food
  • If possible, give hardworking employees bonuses

4. Perfectionism

Maybe you’re not sold that perfectionism is a productivity killer. You might think that perfectionism is a productivity strengthener. But trust me… perfectionism can result in an employee getting nothing done.

Keep in mind that there’s a stark difference between discouraging perfectionism and encouraging sloppy work.

Perfectionists strive to put out flawless work that may meet unreasonable standards. If they aren’t happy with it, they don’t accept it. They may start from scratch if the work doesn’t meet their standards. In many cases, perfectionists also procrastinate on doing their work because they worry that it won’t meet their standards.

And that’s costly. An employee who constantly scraps their great projects could be majorly slowing the workplace down. 

Picture a team collaboration between Betty and Kevin. Betty can’t start on her part of the project until Kevin gives her his work. But, Kevin keeps missing deadlines because he can’t seem to get his work just right…

Encourage employees to let it go

Most work isn’t going to be perfect for the first go-around. If possible, encourage employees to do work in rounds and collaborate.

That way, each project or task has multiple eyes on it. And, it might help employees calm their inner perfectionist.

5. Disorganization

Despite some claims that disorganized people know exactly where everything is, disorganization has the potential to be a huge productivity killer. Not to mention, disorganization can pose a security threat, too.

Here are some examples of disorganization in the workplace:

  • Dozens of documents scattered across a desk or filing cabinet
  • Digital photos or documents in random folders
  • Hundreds of unread emails littering an email inbox
  • Sticky notes everywhere

And, just think about what disorganization can lead to:

  • Missed meetings
  • Missed deadlines
  • Unkept promises
  • Missed opportunities

I don’t know about you, but all of the consequences of disorganization spell poor productivity to me.

Get into gear

To help get your workplace in tip-top shape, you might consider investing in tools that encourage organization.

Some examples include:

  1. Project management systems
  2. Digital to-do lists
  3. Reminder apps
  4. Automated recurring tasks
  5. Digital filing system

If you encourage a decluttered workspace, your employees may automatically follow suit. After all, who wants to have the sole pigpen in the office?

6. Unnecessary meetings

One Harvard Business Review survey found that 71% of senior managers said that meetings are unproductive and inefficient. And if a meeting is unproductive, that means your business is losing productivity overall.

Productivity killers - Harvard university review servey about unnecessary meetings

From “Stop the Meeting Madness” by Leslie A. Perlow, Constance Noonan Hadley, and Eunice Eun. Harvard Business Review, July-August 2017.

Meeting participants can quickly derail the conversation. Whether the conversation turns into a complaining session or personal discussion about weekend events, meetings can be a huge productivity killer. Or, you might find that you’ve met with crickets chirping during a meeting.

Whether it’s derailed conversation or dead silence, an unnecessary meeting could cut right into the middle of an employee’s work, disrupting their actual productivity.

Make the most of meetings

Try not to have a meeting for every little thing that comes up. Ask yourself – Can this be accomplished via email? If it can, you probably don’t need to have a meeting.

If you do need a meeting, optimize your time. Keep things short and sweet to avoid dozing employees.

To make the most of meetings, you should:

  1. Plan the meeting in advance, if possible
  2. Decide on a date and time, and stick to the timeframe
  3. Create an agenda
  4. Ask employees to come prepared

7. Technology problems

Your employees are only as efficient as the systems they use, and that includes technology. Inefficient and unreliable systems can cause your employees to waste time and energy.

Computers, POS systems, and software that crash are just some examples of technology problems that can quickly become productivity killers.

In the same vein, confusing technology that your employees don’t know how to use can be just as problematic. Systems with a high learning curve will likely lead to a drop in productivity if your employees can’t use it. 

Invest in the best

Sure, you probably don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on technology. But if it can produce a great return on investment (ROI) for you, you might consider investing in better-quality technology.

The last thing you want is a system that is prone to constant crashing. And, you want something that doesn’t lose data. You might consider opting for cloud-based software systems so your employees don’t lose their information.

To avoid running into user-error, consider training your employees whenever you get new technology systems.  

8. Poor work-life balance

Another reason an employee’s productivity may be down is due to poor work-life balance. An employee who can’t effectively balance their work responsibilities and personal life may quickly become disengaged and unproductive.

Here are some of the consequences of having an unhealthy work-life balance, all of which lead to a drop in productivity:

  • Burnout
  • Illness
  • Absenteeism
  • Missed obligations
  • Disengagement
  • Frustration

Offer flexible schedules

Not all employers can afford to do this, but you might consider offering your employees flexible work schedules, including the ability to work:

  • Varied hours
  • Remotely

Flexible work hours and remote work can help cut down on absenteeism and encourage a better work-life balance. Employees can avoid missing work due to a contagious sickness or personal conflict.

Encouraging a better work-life balance can not only improve productivity, but it can also lead to happier employees with less stress.

Guest author: Rachel Blakely-Gray is the Content Coordinator at Patriot Software, LLC. Patriot Software offers online accounting and payroll software for small business owners. At Patriot, Rachel enjoys providing actionable, growth-oriented content.

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