How to Turn the Employee Productivity Debate From a Tug-of-War Into a Win-Win

By Clay Parker Jones, Managing Director, Black Glass

Corporate culture is a mess right now as employers and employees find themselves in a tug-of-war over the optimal workplace (and work schedule).

Twitter’s draconian work policy reversals have dominated news feeds for weeks. Massive brands like The New York Times, Salesforce, TikTok and JPMorgan introduced and then pulled back luxe perks in response to economic uncertainty. And tech and investment firms kicked off 2023 demanding employees comply with minimum mandatory office time or risk termination.

All of this in the name of productivity (from employers) and work-life balance (from employees).

Rather than getting further entrenched in a polarizing position, business leaders have a unique opportunity to strike a winning balance.

Achieving a win-win when it comes to team engagement and happiness

When management focuses on engagement over happiness, they actually achieve both. Employees that are more engaged see more value in their work, feel a greater sense of accomplishment and, in turn, are genuinely happier.

But it doesn’t always work the other way around. Trying to make people happier (i.e., tossing “work perks” at employees instead of nurturing their personal goals) doesn’t necessarily help them get more done.

Instead, consider the following steps and questions to help strike the right balance.:

Set your teams up for success.

The main focus for any leader has to be on the enablers of performance. Ask yourself the following questions about your team and work environment:

Do your teams have the right people?

Developing productive, happy employees starts with setting your team up for success.Provide the resources needed to get the job done—and get it done right.

Do they have an important and/or exciting mission?

A shared mission is essential to keeping teams engaged and motivated, particularly in a hybrid environment. Make sure your team has a clear north star they can measure successes against.

Is their environment—physical, social, cultural, technological—conducive to success?

It’s no longer just on HR to ensure employees have what they need to succeed. Leaders must see to it that the company they’ve built acknowledges the needs of the business and its teams.

Emphasize progression as a group.

Plenty of psychological studies prove consumers like completing tasks and seeing progress (e.g., the Endowed Progress Effect, which says people can complete a task when given a placebo head start).

It’s no different for employees. For teams to produce their best work, they should be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Consider the following questions for creating a productive workspace for employees.

Does the team make an intentional effort to get better together?

Being a “team player” has never been more important. Teams with one star player might actually be a red flag that everyone is not working together.

Does the team learn from mistakes and successes equally?

Designated time to review projects is key to finding opportunities to create new efficiencies.

Are team members able to speak up without fear of reprisal?

A safe space for open communication is integral to employee engagement and productivity.

Focus on positive contributions to life as a whole.

Pay, perks and benefits certainly count as positive contributions, but it’s better to adopt an approach that considers the long-term effect the company has on the lives of its employees. Questions to ask that can allow your business to achieve that:

Are the people on your team more fulfilled as a result of their work?

The pandemic led 65% of people to rethink the role work plays in their life—hence the Great Resignation. Employees value the purpose of their work now more than ever.

Are they better connected to their community?

Over half of people say the pandemic made them want to contribute more to society, which is why companies like Salesforce and Visa have included volunteer and give-back incentives in their benefits packages.

Have their lives, and the lives of those they care about, improved?

A healthy work-life balance has a ripple effect to improve an employee’s home life.

The bottom line

Instead of chasing the latest trending work perks or clinging to overly rigid standards, today’s leaders should be digging into these areas and focusing improvements on the places where their organization falls short.

This will improve the lives of employees and, ultimately, enhance team engagement and productivity across the board—a win-win.