INFOGRAPHIC – 10 Ways You’re Making Your Employees Less Productive

If you’re like most managers, you think a lot about whether your employees are being as productive as you need. But have you ever looked at the other side of that equation and wondered if you’re standing in the way of their productivity yourself?

Here are 10 ways you might be derailing your employees’ productivity.

1. Being a bottleneck that prevents your staff from moving work forward. Do you insist on approving every minor detail or a project when you have experienced, competent employees who could easily handle those details themselves? Or maybe you really do need to approve work, but it sits in your in-box for weeks because you’re swamped with other things (or, dare we say it, less organized than you should be). Whatever the reason, if you’re acting as a bottleneck and keeping your staff from being able to drive work forward, it’s a sign that something needs to change – either you need to give them more authority to act without your approval or you need to reallocate your time so that you’re able to get them what they need without unreasonably long delays.

2. Not truly delegating responsibilities.  Too often, managers use their staffers as “helpers” to the manager, rather than giving them real ownership and responsibility. This leaves the manager bearing the burden of spotting what needs to be done and assigning the work, and leaves staff members feeling that they’re only responsible for executing the specific tasks the manager assigns and aren’t empowered to act more broadly. It’s the difference between asking your assistant to make sure there are enough pads and pens in the conference room for an upcoming meeting versus telling her that she is in charge of all logistics for the meeting. If you tell her the latter, she might notice that while there are enough pads and pens, there’s trash all over the room and the speaker phone isn’t working – and fix those things proactively. (Bonus: Most employees will be happier with broader responsibilities than just executing individual tasks.)

3. Not conveying clear expectations. If you don’t communicate clear, concrete goals for staff members’ work, and ensure you have a shared understanding of what success in each role would look like, you’re falling down on one of your most important jobs. A good test: If you and your staff member were both asked what’s most important for them to achieve this year, would your answers match? If not, chances are low that you’re going to get the level of performance you’re hoping for.

4. Not giving useful feedback. If you want employees to perform at the highest level they can, you need to give them clear and direct feedback about what they’re doing well and what they could do better. You will get better work from people by helping them develop their strengths and tackle problem areas. (And remember that feedback isn’t just for criticisms – as the old saying goes, “Praise what you want to see more of.”)

5. Not allowing people to carve out time to concentrate. Are you guilty of always stopping by for impromptu conversations rather than scheduling regular one-on-ones? Have you discouraged employees who wanted to block off quiet work periods on their calendars, telling them instead to be accessible to colleagues at all times? If so, you might be impeding your employees’ productivity. While people of course need to be accessible and you don’t want to ban spontaneous conversations, in many jobs you need to balance that against employees’ need to focus. If you’re constantly interrupting their workflow or insisting that others be allowed to, their inability to deeply focus will be reflected in your team’s output.

6. Not asking people what they need to do their jobs better. You might think that you already know what your team’s needs are – but you might be surprised by what you’d find out if you asked. Many people won’t speak up on their own if they need new software, a faster computer, or other tools to do their job – but if you ask, they’ll often tell you.

7. Not letting people telecommute when the work allows it. Guess what happens when you let people work from home when they need to? Instead of people calling in sick or taking a full day off to wait for a repair person, they often still work on those days, because they can do it from home. (And what’s more, telecommuting is a benefit that earns many employees’ loyalty.)

8. Insisting on doctor’s notes in order to take sick days. If your company requires employees to present proof of illness when they need to take a sick day, it’s time to rethink that policy. Having to go to the doctor’s office when you have a cold just so that you can get a doctor’s note to show your employer is insulting, isn’t productive – and it often results in employees coming to work sick, when they can’t focus and can’t produce at normal levels. It also means that illnesses get spread to more employees – which means more people not working at full speed.

9. Scrimping on training. As the economy has pushed companies to try to do more with less, budgets for training and development have taken a major hit. As a result, employees are often expected to produce results without getting much (or any) training – which can lead to serious inefficiencies, as people struggle to figure out software or other key elements of their job on their own.

10. Creating a climate of fear and anxiety. Ruling through rigid control, negativity, and a climate of anxiety and fear might ensure that no one steps out of line – but it also ensures that employees won’t bring up new ideas for fear of being attacked and won’t be honest about problems – which will limit what your entire team is able to accomplish. (Moreover, very few great people with options are going to want to work for a fear-based manager.)


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Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • Chris Thompson

    I like #6. I sometimes ask what do you need from me? This question keeps the communication lines open and allows people a way to give you feedback or make suggestions which they may otherwise not do. Anything you can do to get people to be open, honest and transparent is a plus.


    Somedude Reply:

    “What do you need from me?” can sometimes come off as a passive-aggressive way of saying “You’re working too slow — can’t you work any faster?”.


  • Alex

    Great post! I completely agree with your points. I also notice that when managers have too much of an ego, they’ll run rampant, and the employee eventually gets fed up of that!


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  • languishing

    holy crap, you just described my workday…(sigh)


  • Reese

    How do I tell my own manager this? He needs to read this. Badly.


    Mueller Reply:

    You are going to have to find a new job. Tell them with your feet (walking out the door…)


    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Depends of which of the issues are in play. With some, there’s very little/nothing you can do to change those practices from below — it needs to come from your manager or above him.


  • Grace McCarter

    My boss does maybe only one of these that I noticed(work in a machine shop) but we are always welcome to tell him what we need to make our jobs easier(there’s even a shopping list thing hanging outside his office we can write on).


  • Amber King

    For me, not giving our employees freedom to make their own decisions is one of the biggest factor. By doing this, you are not trusting their capabilities and you are also hindering them from growing. By giving them freedom, you are allowing them to think for themselves and make them discover what their capabilities are.


  • nagkumar

    >Not conveying clear expectations.

    Trust me this is good to be in this situation rather than following wrongly put so called clear expectations (most of the management is good in communicating wrong ones as right ones.. such as complete it in 1 day 1 hr etc..)… Most of the management does not know what to expect..they are clueless about last mile impact of bad engineering. An intelligent and committed employee gets it better than Managment most of the time…

    In all, if people need to be managed to give great results.. trust me it is not possible.. in the current business attitudes.. My advice is Managers should comment on outcome’s gaps to the broader that people would start filling them faster at their best possible time lines.. this way convergence can happen faster without invading each other territory.. I call this as Modern Management approach..where Innovation can have a place..

    Raja Nagendra Kumar,
    - Code Quality, Re-Engineering, Programing the Programmers..


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  • Grace

    my goodness, you just described my boss with every detail…its amazing how 1 can grow to become like this…I really do love working here but i dont know if writing her boss for a change of office is a good idea….*sighs*


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  • terredean

    Great post! Employees should be left free; there are many other ways also if a
    company wants to track employee’s activity, without interfering them. But employees
    should also understand this as in an organization managing so many employees is
    really tough and decorum has to be maintained.

    Employee Management


  • donalda

    I want to effing choke all the bottleneck subject matter experts I need to rely on to check my work for accuracy. I am writing on deadlines and I need these people’s input but they just sit on it. I know they are busy, but so is everybody. I wish someone could tell me how to light a fire under these people.


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  • Shiloh_D

    Forgot having an A list/B list environment. Forgot discouraging having fun at work.


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  • Itsy

    Regarding the bottleneck manager, I once had a staff package that needed to be routed and signed in three days and it sat in the managers inbox for TWO MONTHS! I kid you not. And we were afraid to ask about it. Only in the federal government…


  • Itsy

    Not meaning to be the typical disgruntle worker but this is all too true. It is a present day reality: I have a gov’t job and we have many of these issues: 3 bottlenecks in my office division who want to go over EVERYTHING (takes several days to weeks to route anything (even a 2-months once), open area “collaborative” work stations where everything around you disturbs you, you are constantly distracted by noise or nearby conversation and people feel free to interrupt you all the time because, well, there you are out in the open… Our mangers are sitting right next to us practically in our lap CONSTANTLY breathing down our necks, and watching every movement or when you go to the bathroom. There is no training budget whatsoever, and a management culture that promotes and rewards bullying, screaming, and sabotaging your own employees (I even had a manager outright LIE on my eval, and another tried to get me fired because I dared to defend myself from a false accusation). My hair started turning as white as snow (I had to start dying it) and my health was broken. Definitely Fear Factor here. I felt like I was on a battlefield everyday with a couple of managers. My manager right now is decent (afraid to change positions because I might loose him), but the listed work conditions are the same. Oh and overtime? forget it: you can be expected to work 10-12 hour days regularly (depending on your manager) but your position is not “authorized” overtime. So you are just not allowed to claim it. But then they want to nitpick your 30-minute “mandatory” lunch break to make sure you aren’t “defrauding” the gov’t. But if you end up working through your lunch break, you can’t go home 30-min early (no sir that’s timecard fraud) and you can’t claim it on your timesheet as work (it’s “mandatory” that you took it), but you still have to stay 30min later each day and give that as a freebie to the gov’t. But they are SO worried we are defrauding time from the gov’t. I stopped counting after they defrauded me of $20,000 of overtime. The Gov’t pays a lot of lip service to “work-life balance” but the reality is different. And telework? Are you kidding? The managers believe that if they can’t see you chained to your desk, you are NOT working. They have a section on their website talking all about telecommuting options, but you’ll not be able to actually find a telecommuting position even if your life depended on it. No, just keep up that 2-hour each way commute (I commute 3 hours a day). Guess I am just grateful to have a job, “lazy” disgruntled federal worker that I am. Were work conditions always this bad?


  • Ryan Goldberg

    This article is too generic and very easily misunderstood. Employees are very often confusing productivity with how hard and how long they work. The only thing that count in every company small or big is quality of work = result = profit = productivity = goal if you work very hard to accomplish a task and your productivity is low the company has not interest is supporting you since you are not supporting the company . If it was hard or easy for you to accomplish a task it is totally unrelated with productivity. There is people that can run a marathon and enjoy it there is people that would not be survive to that . This is completely unrelated with running a marathon. You can’t get credit if you don’t reach your goal . Now a management that has not rule of the game and a score system is a bad management every player should not the rule of the game to be a good player a champion or a bad player.


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