Have you ever noticed a disconnect in employee performance but not been able to pinpoint the exact problem? Don’t worry — you’re not alone. With the rapid pace of change in today’s workforce, problems that managers and HR haven’t been trained to handle pop up frequently and unexpectedly.
“A symptom of the modern workforce is frenzied, non-goal-driven work,” says Kimberly Spencer, CEO of Crown Yourself Enterprises. “It’s a systemic problem. You have to look at your company culture and consciously decide that one of the values of the culture is not having stressful, harried employees.”
Here are five performance problems present in the modern workforce — and five simple ways you can help employees overcome them.
All employees deal with having their work interrupted by constant emails, pings and texts. The sense of flow that comes from deep work is rarely achieved. “It's becoming increasingly harder to engage in deep work because of the hyper-connectedness of modern society and the modern workplace in particular,” says Aaron Barth, founder and president of Dialectic.
“The modern workplace is actually characterized by a lot of people doing shallow work,” Barth says. “And it's the problem nobody is talking about because of the value placed on hyperconnectivity.” Managers can help standardize communication channels with priority labels, allowing employees to disconnect and truly engage in their work.
Hyperconnectivity is a fairly new addition to the workplace, so most organizations haven’t put policies or protocols in place to guide employees in prioritizing work over communication. “For most of us, the main part of our job is solving a constrained set of problems,” Barth says. “But as a culture, we are so focused on connectivity that the constant communique bombardment pulls us from the headspace we need to succeed.”
Spencer says many employees struggle to prioritize different tasks appropriately, but this is often a symptom of miscommunication. “People want to feel like they have a purpose, that what they're doing is more than just a task,” she says. “But they often don't have that vision of what's beyond the next 30 days, and without the big picture they can’t prioritize effectively.” Sometimes employees’ have to be “zoomed out” to see the big picture. Employers can help communicate the big picture across departments, so employees know which tasks to complete in the correct order.
Related to the previous problems is the misidentification of what “urgent” means, and prioritizing projects in the wrong order. “There is a belief that stress equates to productivity, but we end up working the steps of a project in the wrong order,” Spencer says. “And then projects come to a deadline and it's at the last minute that suddenly this project has to be done when those tasks weren't prioritized properly along the way.” HR can help managers settle on a consistent definition of “urgent” work to help facilitate better use of employee time.
In order to stay busy, we often tackle little projects that give us a sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make the big projects go away. “People want to feel like they have a purpose, and being busy gives them that sense,” Spencer says. “But there's a difference between being busy and being efficient. Productive procrastination is focusing more on being busy rather than being efficient with your work.”
This often stems from miscommunication. As connected as we are, it seems we still struggle to communicate. “It's a symptom of lack of clarity on the vision, key performance indicators and goals of the company,” Spencer says. By clarifying project — and overall company goals — employees can learn to stay busy, but in a clear, purpose-guided way.
Ultimately, all performance problems come down to low-quality output — the ultimate performance failure. Staying busy by focusing on the wrong tasks or prioritizing emails over the more important aspects of work may offer a sense of accomplishment, but they don’t move the organization forward. “The number of things you've engaged in at the end of the day may be higher, but the quality of your work is lower,” Barth says.
He suggests using behavioral nudges and streamlined desktops to help employees stay focused on the weightier work at hand. “After all, high-quality output is the holy grail of performance,” Barth says.