A Busy Staff Isn’t Always a Productive Staff

Productivity is one of the most vital parts of running a business, as without it no work can get done. Even if your employees look like they are keeping themselves busy, a study from the Harvard Business School suggests they may not be as busy as you think they are. How does this work, and what can you do to resolve this issue?

Idle Time in the Office
The study conducted by the Harvard Business School showcased that employers lose $100 billion each year to time spent by employees remaining idle in the office. Even the researchers were shocked by the sheer magnitude of this number. Professor Teresa Amabile and Professor Andrew Brodsky expected significant loss from idle time, but were floored by the actual sum.

For the purposes of the study, idle time is defined as time when an employee is ready and able to work, but something keeps them from being productive. Some of the primary causes of this idle time range from poor task allocation to equipment management availability, with everything in between.

One method of research used by Amabile and Brodsky involved running a series of experiments that tested the effects of being idle. The subjects would copy over sentences (including typos) without having access to the Internet or their phones. The researchers found that participants would draw out their tasks to fit the time they had to complete the task rather than just complete it as soon as possible. On the other hand, if they had the chance to use the Internet or their devices, they would instead complete the task as soon as possible so they could get to something less menial or more enjoyable. Going slower didn’t result in fewer errors–only more time spent on the task. The researchers dubbed this tendency to slow down the “deadtime effect,” noting that the “deadline effect” is different in that it causes an increase in productivity as the deadline draws near.

Fighting This Trend
According to the research, Amabile and Brodsky found that some strategic “leisure time” (time spent not working on something productive) was beneficial to keeping idle time to a minimum. If you can promote transparency and base evaluation of employees on outcomes rather than the road to those outcomes, managers can make the lives of employees much easier while still benefiting from all the work being done.

Thanks to the increased productivity such a policy can bring about, management can obtain a better perspective on how long specific tasks can take to accomplish. Consequently, tasks can be allocated more efficiently, allowing employees to get more done throughout the workday without sacrificing quality.

What are some methods you’ve used to improve productivity in your workplace? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to our blog.

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