If you’re worried about team productivity at your company, you’re not alone. Declining worker output is a growing phenomenon, particularly as businesses and employees struggle with the new realities of remote work.

Unfortunately, conventional approaches to boosting team productivity often fall short. Some even backfire completely, turning productive members of the team into disengaged employees who eventually quit.

Why Traditional Strategies to Improve Team Productivity Often Fail

Like other economic indicators, U.S. productivity has been volatile during the pandemic as workers have been forced to juggle work with family responsibilities and societal pressures. It’s easy to assume that team productivity has fallen because workers are just not “giving it their all.”  But experience has taught us that this hardly tells the story.  The real source of under-performance can often be traced back to specific issues – lack of employee engagement, burnout, stress, external distractions, and so on.

In fact, how you manage your employees can make or break their productivity. Every interaction between managers and employees makes a difference in team productivity: performance reviews, feedback, communication of expectations, how goals are set, how tasks are prioritized, even casual conversation in the hallway (or on Slack) —it all makes a difference.

One reason so many productivity strategies fail is that they’re narrowly focused on a specific technique such as time blocking or task batching. Or, they force all employees into an identical productivity system, ignoring the emotional drivers that boost (or undermine) an employee’s enthusiasm for work.

In this post, we’ll discuss the foundational role that emotions play in generating the enthusiasm that employees bring to work each day. We’ll also share strategies for using emotional intelligence to turbocharge team productivity. First, though, let’s review a couple of the traditional strategies for increasing productivity, and explore why each one has a low success rate.

Performance metrics don’t tell the whole story

One of the most popular management tactics to increase team productivity is to establish and track a set of success metrics for each employee: How many widgets have been produced, how many lines of code written, how many spreadsheets reviewed, and so on.

But Jerry Z Muller, author of The Tyranny of Metrics, explains in a Fast Company article that judging your team by their ability to hit a specific set of numbers can be counterproductive. Here’s how he describes the problem:

“Compelling people in an organization to focus their efforts on a narrow range of measurable features degrades the experience of work. Subject to performance metrics, people are forced to focus on limited goals, imposed by others who might not understand the work that they do. Mental stimulation is dulled when people don’t decide the problems to be solved or how to solve them, and there is no excitement of venturing into the unknown because the unknown is beyond the measurable. The entrepreneurial element of human nature is stifled by metric fixation.”

How would you feel if your manager told you you have to pick 2 bushels of apples everyday. It would take away your motivation to pick the best apples, exceed the quota, or focus on other important issues such as the health of the apple trees.

Big Brother surveillance techniques can lead to big problems

In the new era of remote work and geographically distributed teams, many organizations have implemented digital monitoring tools to make sure their employees are productive throughout the workday.

The impulse is understandable. Businesses want to know when and where their employees, particularly remote team members, are working. And today’s technology—keystroke monitoring, GPS vehicle tracking—can enable this real-time monitoring.

But a 2022 survey by research firm Morning Consult found that about 50% of technology workers would rather quit their jobs than be subject to workplace surveillance practices.

And keep in mind, quitting isn’t the only way a frustrated employee can undermine their company. Some employees who feel disrespected—or just plain freaked out—about having their employer track their activity levels might stay on but check out mentally. For those employees, the surveillance approach will result in less productivity, not more.

To perform at their best, employees need to feel valued and trusted by the businesses that employ them. Monitoring their behavior and movements sends exactly the opposite signal.

A Novel Approach: Boost Emotional Intelligence to Improve Employee Productivity

If there is a theme uniting the two traditional management strategies to boost team productivity that we just reviewed, it’s that they both fail to take into account employee emotions. That’s a fundamental oversight in any approach to managing employees because our emotions play a huge role in our ability to do our best work.

If your goal is to improve team productivity, your first priority should be developing the emotional intelligence of your employees and managers.

Here are a few reasons improving this skill set across your organization can generate enormous benefits—a boost in productivity being only one of them.

1. It leads to better decisions.

Making good decisions efficiently is a core component of productivity. Emotionally intelligent employees have the skills to regulate their emotions so they can manage the decision-making process and consistently make thoughtful, objective decisions.

How this increases productivity.

An emotionally intelligent employee knows to stop and gauge their emotional state before making any high-stakes business decisions. If the employee is feeling stressed by a deadline, for example, they will recognize that stress and understand that it could lead to a poor decision—because they’re in a hurry to “make progress” to beat the looming deadline.

By taking just a few moments to recognize any emotional impediments that could cloud their judgment, the employee can save time and money by not having to go back later and undo the work that resulted from a poor decision.

2. It improves performance and creativity.

Emotionally intelligent people know that they do their best work and generate better ideas when they’re feeling relaxed and clear-headed. By contrast, they know that feeling distracted or upset can undermine their performance and creativity.

How this increases productivity.

An emotionally intelligent employee knows to arrange their workload so that they work on creative projects when they’re relaxed and tuned in—for example, first thing in the morning.

If they’re having difficulty starting a creative project, the emotionally intelligent employee will take time to surface any negative feelings. They might even use a scientific tool to gauge their mood. If they determine they’re feeling unpleasant or low energy, the employee will then take steps to counter these negative emotions and create a more relaxed state. Some of the simpler tactics include:

  • Taking a walk
  • Listening to their favorite music
  • Exercising
  • Smiling
  • Laughing

3. It improves the quality of relationships.

Emotionally intelligent employees are better equipped to understand coworkers’ and customers’ needs, tailor their communication styles to the preferences of each person, and therefore stay engaged.  

How this increases productivity.

An emotionally intelligent employee will be more agile in how they collaborate and work with various members of the organization. This enables them to work more efficiently with each individual, as opposed to trying to force colleagues into a rigid approach to collaboration. Engagement increases, disengagement decreases.

An essential skill in improving communication with coworkers is co-regulation. This emotional intelligence process involves assessing others’ emotional state and then using techniques to help shift peoples’ emotions to a mood that matches the work at hand Co-regulation is a powerful skill to help improve a colleague’s mood and even inspire them to feel more enthusiastic about their work.

Similarly, emotionally intelligent managers know how to build genuine relationships with each employee by recognizing how each person prefers to work and communicate. Using these all-important soft skills, the emotionally intelligent manager is able to boost productivity across their team by creating the circumstances for each employee to thrive.

Employee productivity is key to your organizational success, but don’t become fixated on employee productivity metrics and surveillance tactics. Productivity starts with your employees feeling fulfilled and happy in their roles. If your management strategies prioritize engagement, satisfaction, and motivation, you'll find that productivity naturally follows. Keeping these practices aligned with your organizational values and goals is also vital. This encourages employees to enjoy a long career with your organization.

Ready to start making emotional intelligence training your company’s priority? Speak with our EI specialist to get started today.