It’s difficult to understate the importance of productivity in the workplace. Business success hinges greatly on whether employees are engaged while on the job. If they’re not, it can cause cascading problems that lead to missed deadlines, delays, cost overruns and loss of revenue.

So, if your team’s productivity isn’t what it used to be, you’re right to be concerned. Your business is also caught up in a trend: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that annual average productivity in the United States decreased by 1.3% from 2021 to 2022 — the largest year-over-year decline since 1974.

What’s causing this drop in output? And how can you increase productivity at your company?

Identify obstacles to employee productivity

Many factors can contribute to a decline in productivity in the workplace. Topping the list is employees feeling overworked — and perhaps even experiencing burnout.

Is your business coping with a spate of employee departures due to the Great Resignation? Are your remaining workers shouldering more work than usual and trying to compensate for skill gaps? Are you struggling to recruit new employees in a tight hiring market? If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you may want to consider engaging contract professionals to help ease the burden on your team and keep projects moving forward.

And what about your onboarding process? When you do add new talent to your team, are you able to onboard them quickly — including remotely, if needed? If it takes too long for new hires to get up to speed, that can undermine productivity, too.

Also, think about your current management approach. Are you communicating regularly and effectively with your staff? Are you asking them to prioritize their work appropriately? And are you providing them with constructive feedback about their work and acknowledging their contributions?

All these things can significantly impact employee productivity and job satisfaction, and being mindful of them can help you get the best performance from your team.

Tips for re-engaging your workforce

Whatever the exact reasons are for dwindling productivity in the workplace, managers need to find ways to re-engage their teams and avoid a prolonged slump. Here are six tips that can help get things buzzing again:

1. Address the issue in one-to-one meetings

If you want to know why an employee’s productivity has dropped, ask them directly. If the employee is coping with overwork, stress, burnout or similar issues, they will likely appreciate your outreach and recognition that they need a helping hand. And if they’re just coasting along in neutral, it puts them on notice that you expect more and will check in regularly to assess their progress.

Consider scheduling at least two monthly meetings with disengaged workers (you can reduce the frequency as things improve). These ongoing check-ins, which should be considered separate from the regular performance review process, will allow for a more proactive approach to employee engagement. You can provide timely feedback and work with the employee to adjust goals as needed.

2. Set clear goals and expectations

When assigning tasks, be precise about what you expect an employee to do and when you expect them to do it. For example, instead of saying, “Finish this project when you can,” say, “Please finish this by Friday at 5 p.m.” Setting clear goals helps employees understand the purpose and scope of their work and plan their time accordingly. It also enables you to measure and track performance.

Make sure all goals and deadlines are realistic. You want the employee to feel challenged enough so that when they hit the mark, it creates a sense of achievement — and they aren’t overwhelmed along the way toward reaching that goal. If a worker tells you they can’t hit a deadline, listen to their reasons and adjust timing, if possible. Productivity planning works best when it’s a two-way conversation.

3. Empower your team with more autonomy

Give employees the flexibility and autonomy they need to achieve maximum focus and productivity. This begins with rethinking the traditional 9-to-5 workday — and focusing on productivity and bottom-line benefits instead of the clock.

For example, if an office-based team member regularly struggles with their rush-hour commute, give them the option to arrive and leave an hour later. If you learn that a remote worker’s productivity tends to nosedive after lunch, suggest that the employee try using a “windowed work” schedule. Encourage them to focus on high-priority projects and meetings in the morning and reserve the post-lunch hours for less taxing work.

The supposed drawback of flexible work — that you can’t always know exactly what the employee is doing and when — can be an advantage. It eliminates the temptation to micromanage and builds trust between you and your workers, an essential ingredient for higher morale and engagement.

Working remotely and looking for tips to raise the productivity bar for yourself? Check out this post.

4. Say no to multitasking

Some workers assume multitasking is an effective way to get more done in less time. However, this approach often leads to mistakes and slower completion times.

Encourage team members to prioritize tasks and complete them in order of urgency and importance, and to raise their hands when their plates get overloaded, and they need help. Also, emphasize that you’re impressed by measurable results and quality work.

5. Recognize and reward your most productive workers

A tried-and-true way to re-engage workers is through appropriate, timely recognition of their good work, which can foster a more profound sense of employee achievement, belonging and connection.

While financial rewards like bonuses, care packages and gift cards can make a positive impact, some of the best recognition methods are cost-free and collaborative. For example, why not set up a wall of fame to recognize workers who have gone above and beyond? Or set aside a few minutes in team meetings for people to offer kudos and share success stories involving their coworkers?

Also, as a manager, be generous in saying “thank you” to your employees, even if it’s just to let them know how much you appreciate their everyday contributions and commitment.

6. Identify and minimize time-wasting activities

Employee productivity squashers include spending too much time checking social media and socializing with colleagues while on the job. Your business can address these issues by clearly communicating expectations and setting guidelines for acceptable workplace behavior. However, don’t be too strict: Allowing employees time in the workday to check on personal matters and share a laugh with their coworkers can improve morale and help your team members be more productive overall.

Addressing institutional time-wasting can also help boost employee productivity. This includes eliminating overly long or unnecessary meetings, clarifying workflows, and providing access to mission-critical resources.

Start working more efficiently today by limiting the number of meetings and empowering employees to skip sessions that aren’t relevant to their current priorities. In the longer term, consider using technology that can help increase collaboration and save time. Productivity apps, for example, can help streamline workflows and allow workers to share and access vital resources they need to do their jobs effectively.

Just because an employee’s productivity is declining, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to work at their best level — or for you. Talk to your team members, one-on-one and as a group, to discover what’s preventing them from working optimally and hitting their goals. By recognizing the potential of every employee and providing them with the appropriate support, you can unlock new levels of productivity in the workplace.