Dear Addi P.:

Our managers are reporting employees are being unproductive during the workday, causing deadlines to be extended, work to be missed and more. Because these employees are not spending their day focused on their work responsibilities, would this be considered time theft? Could you provide insight on how to increase productivity?

— Idle in Idaho

While "time theft" may be a useful concept in understanding productivity, it may not be how you want to talk about it with employees. If employees are distracted, having trouble focusing and not getting work done, you may want to look at some bigger culture and engagement issues to understand what is really happening instead of just focusing on how to increase productivity. And if there are morale issues behind the problem, accusing employees of time theft will probably not help.

That said, according to ADP, time theft occurs when employees are at work, but not working. This can include surfing the web, doing personal tasks, arriving late, leaving early, or just not getting things done then work overtime to complete the work.

How to Increase Productivity

Whatever your employees are doing, they are impacting your bottom line. The question is, when did all these missed deadlines become acceptable? Because multiple managers are reporting on multiple employees, there appears to be some schedule and project management issues here.

Ask Important Questions to Determine the Root Cause

To get to the root of the problem, you need to ask deeper questions.

  • Why are deadlines being extended? Were the deadlines clearly communicated?
  • Was the timeline for all the deliverables clear? Does everyone know what their actual deliverable or work product is and how it should be delivered? Why is work being missed?

Lack of clarity and communication can lead to people engaging in a significant amount of busy work. The employee may believe they are being productive, while the manager believes otherwise. Was responsibility assigned to the appropriate individuals? When everyone is responsible, no one is. If someone is responsible for a deliverable that involves work from someone else, but that someone else is not held accountable, the schedule will break down.

  • Are the timelines too short?
  • Do employees have the resources and support they need?
  • Are employees waiting on contingencies to be completed? Where are the bottlenecks?
  • Do the employees have the training to do what needs to be done?

Answers to these questions will help you determine how to increase productivity by unearthing and addressing the issues.

What to Do if People Are Slacking Off

If people are truly just slacking off, you may have a morale problem. Employees who feel empowered, valued and appreciated are typically very engaged in their work and highly productive.

  • Is the work challenging, interesting and rewarding, or is it high-pressure and highly repetitive? If it is the latter, to increase productivity, consider ways to make the work more engaging. Rotating the repetitive work among different people, reducing stress by adjusting deadlines can help. Solicit your employees' opinions regarding how to do this.
  • Are there one or more bad apples — employees or managers — who treat people poorly or who have substandard work ethics? When this is present, many employees become discouraged and decrease their work effort. If that person is driving down morale and you have already coached them more than once on their behavior, you may need to release them.

Do your managers express gratitude for a job well done? Do they recognize and give credit to those who outperform? If your firm's managers only berate personnel for underperforming and never recognize excellence, people will often drastically reduce their output over time. According to Forbes, when employees feel their labor or time is undervalued, they will slow down their performance to compensate. You can resolve this issue by strongly encouraging your managers to say thank you to their staff and by implementing employee recognition at all levels, from staff meetings to company meetings and beyond.

The automatic reaction of some employers is to chastise employees for low productivity or shirking responsibility, or to utilize technology to track productivity contributors, such as travel time and arrival or departure times. When numerous employees are missing deadlines and not submitting work, there are nearly always deeper issues. Clearly communicating expectations, assigning responsibility and holding all accountable can be highly effective in improving productivity. If confusion is not the cause, uncovering and resolving morale issues can be the next step to increase productivity.

Tags: People Management and Growth Addi P. Company Culture Employee Engagement and Productivity Large Business Midsize Business Multinational Small Business Research & Insights Articles HR