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July 14, 2016

7 tips from psychology to increase employee productivity

Daily Briefing

Editor's note: This story was updated on April 11, 2018.

Using positive reinforcement is one of the first steps toward increasing employee productivity, Matthew Jones writes for Inc.

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"Employees benefit from a safe, supportive atmosphere," Jones writes. Employers do, too: It can lead to higher productivity and higher profits, says Jones, who outlines seven keys to creating a more efficient and effective workplace.

1. Give employees regular positive reinforcement.

Research has found that positive reinforcement is more effective than negative feedback, Jones writes.

Jones recommends that leaders take time to recognize employees' performance and provide performance-based bonuses and financial incentives.

2. Make the office a safe space.

If people feel safe and supported at work, they're more likely to be productive and loyal to their organization, Jones says. Investing in multicultural training programs and diversity initiatives "will result in an excellent return on your investment," Jones writes, "because it will increase employee retention, decrease liability, and attract a wide range of employees to your company."

3. Be authentic.

Authentic leaders cultivate more genuine relationships with their direct reports, and that's important for organizational growth. "When people get to work and then have to hide behind a masquerade," Jones writes, "they are much less likely to give critical feedback that's needed for positive change, and are less likely to be engaged with their work."

4. Keep lines of communication open.

Employees tend to be more loyal to organizations that they think value their input, Jones writes, so it's important to keep open lines of communication.

Employees are also more engaged when there's transparency and clarity about decision-making processes, Jones says. "If you want your organization to succeed," Jones writes, "master the art of communication."

5. Emphasize the positive effects of employees' work.

"When employees feel like their work is meaningless," Jones writes, "they slack off and count the number of minutes until they can leave for the day."

To help employees find meaning in their work, identity how what they do is critical to the organization's goals and growth, Jones says. "Psychology tells us that the more we can create a sense of meaning, the more responsible we feel for being the author of our lives," Jones writes. "Empower your employees to write a story that fits into the organization's narrative, so that the entire group feels accountable for progress."

6. Allow employees to take breaks.

Humans have an average attention span of eight seconds, according to research from Microsoft. That's lower than a goldfish.

With that fact in mind, it's unrealistic to expect employees to be focused for eight hours straight, Jones writes. Instead, he recommends that organizations build short breaks into the workday to allow employees time to clear their thoughts, refocus, and stay productive.

7. Validate employees' emotions.

If employees voice concerns or resist changes, it's important to validate their emotions before discussing the issue further, Jones says. That can help make them more receptive to feedback.

"Simple psychology works," Jones concludes. "Psychologists spend decades studying humans to understand their motivations and functions. Instead of ignoring their efforts, start incorporating current psychological research" to maximize employee productivity and organizational profits (Jones, Inc., 7/13). 

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