How To Increase Employee Productivity

Do you wish your employees were more productive? Spent less time on negative gossip? Any organization can improve productivity by creating stronger positive connections. It’s free. It’s easy. It works.

I was scared. My knees were shaking. Other kids were already snickering at me. Why? It was my turn to stand and read the next paragraph out loud. Only I had a secret. The words didn’t look the same to me as they did to everyone else. I couldn’t do it.  I stood frozen in fear.

The teacher made her way over to me. What would she do? Would she tell me to sit down in shame? Would she tell me what I thought: That I was stupid? No. She put her big, soft arm around my shoulder and whispered: “We’ll read it together.” And, with great relief, we did.

There was silence in the room full of executives listening to this story. The speaker lifted the lid on one of the “undiscussable” topics among the group. Nearly every one of these accomplished, competitive, driven leaders was, at one point in their careers, like the scared little boy with a secret that held him back. And, each of them had longed for that arm around their shoulder encouraging them to make the brave next step.

The speaker was Dr. Ned Hallowell, an alumnus of Harvard University and Tulane Medical School, an accomplished psychiatrist who now dedicates his career to teaching and writing.  Of all of the dozens of keynotes I’ve heard over many conferences, I will never forget Dr. Hallowell’s. Here he was addressing a group of mostly marketing leaders, offering simple facts about reaching people. Connection precedes action.  Caring precedes connection. Your message, no matter how slick, won’t be sustained without caring and connection.

What Is Connection?

As. Dr. Hallowell describes in Shine (2011), connection is the bond a person feels with a person, team or organization that stirs feelings of attachment, loyalty and inspiration. The stronger the connection; the greater one’s willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of the connection. It starts with a person, or people, who understand you. Connection begins when someone cares enough to engage in a shared interest, to learn about you, to offer to help.

What Does Connection Have to Do With Productivity?

Connection creates positive energy. The greater the positive energy, the happier the employee. And the happier the employee, the better the quality of their work. As Dr. Hallowell states: Connecting with others is really good for you. And, it’s good for business. Consider some facts:

1.  Gallup finds a relationship between employee engagement and employee well being, including positive social well-being at work. An employee at the highest levels of engagement and well being is at work more, costing their employer an average of $840.00 a year in lost productivity. An employee at the bottom of both engagement and well being scores misses work to the tune of a whopping $28,000.00 a year in lost time.

2. Perhaps the cost of lost time for employees with the weakest engagement and connection at work is so great because they are more likely to get sick. Research from Europe shows a relationship between employees’ feelings of disconnection and insecurity about skills with occurrences of stress related illness, including heart attacks.  Research out of the University of Michigan shows that job insecurity was a better predictor of poor health than high blood pressure or cigarette smoking. Of course, a manager or organization can’t control employees’ feelings of insecurity, but an arm around the shoulder sure helps.

3. On the bright side, positive connection spreads positive energy. An analysis of social networks shows that a person is about 15% more likely to be happy if he or she is connected to a happy person. Gallup researchers show that connection at work can change people’s thinking. People who hear more positive things start to think more positively. The inverse is also true, that people who hear more negative things at work tend to think more negatively. So, spread positive connections to increase your chances of more positively thinking employees.

How To Create Connection at Work

This is the best part. Creating connection is free, easy, and any size organization has the resources to do it.

1.  Be positive about SOMETHING.  As a leader, you have more influence over the affective moods of your employees than any other person at work.  Your mood spreads. Positive energy attracts connection. This is not about wearing a Dilbert smiley button, but sharing something (or things) today you can be authentically happy about.

2. Create opportunities for positive socializing.  Way back when, people at work used to share lunch together without a Power Point presentation in front of them. Really, it’s true.  If lunch doesn’t work, create space in every teleconference or web meeting for a few minutes of personal sharing or inquiry. Plan a weekly standing afternoon “walk about” to a coffee house. Not everyone will participate at first, but over time, most will. 

3.  Reactions to problems build or destroy connection.  Even superstar employees have problems. How a leader responds to them can build or damage connection faster than almost any other circumstance. Dr. Hallowell’s teacher didn’t tell him he was a great reader and to keep going. She stood with him and helped. Asking an employee: How did you mess this up? damages connection. Asking: How do you think you’d do it differently? gets the same information, but communicates interest  and confidence.

Almost everyone I know can relate to the scared little boy in Dr. Hallowell’s story. No matter how smart, successful and confident we appear, each of us has that moment when we know we can’t do it alone. Positive connections at work fill that gap. Don’t wait until you need them: start getting the benefits today.


E.M. Hallowell (2011). Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best From Your People. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Robinson, J. (2011). The Business of Good Friends. Gallup Management Journal, Dec. 2011.

2 thoughts on “How To Increase Employee Productivity

  1. Great post Susan. Reminds me of other studies of needing to approach a 4:1 ratio of positive to “constructive” comments. Something that I definitely need to give attention to. Dave

    • That’s a good rule of thumb, David. Although, constructive can also be connective. If the employee believes the manager understands and cares about their well being, there may be a greater willingness to internalize the constructive comments. How the employee interprets the manager’s motives is important.

      Thanks for the comment.

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