What gets in the way of you being really productive at work? A constantly ringing phone, endless interruptions from colleagues, complex systems and procedures, equipment that doesn’t work properly?

According to the CIPD’s latest Employee Outlook Survey, ‘unnecessary rules and procedures’ come top of the list of things stopping us from getting on and working at our best. Not having the right resources also featured in the top three ‘blockers’, along with office politics, which was cited as a major irritant and stifler of creativity.

The need to improve productivity in the UK workplace has been high on the political agenda for some time, so it’s interesting to note that despite all the high-level debate, it’s often quite simple and easily-fixed issues that affect how well people work.

Unnecessarily complex HR procedures are a prime example. It’s surprising how many firms are still using unwieldy, paper-based systems for managing processes like annual leave, for instance, when the technology to approve and track holiday quickly and easily is readily available.

So, if you’d like to up the ante in your business and get people working as productively as possible, what are some of the steps you could take?

Give people the right equipment and resources

“If you don’t have the tools, you can’t do the job,” has become something of a mantra in our house, following a plumbing related incident that escalated due to a sticking plaster approach. It’s a principle that applies not just to DIY, but across the business spectrum. If equipment is old and keeps breaking down, people will become frustrated and won’t be able to do their job efficiently. If technology is unnecessarily complicated or not fit for purpose, employees either won’t use it or will waste valuable time trying to navigate it. You can’t expect people to deliver good work to tight deadlines if you are not giving them the right resources.

Play to people’s strengths

The CIPD survey looked at what enabled staff to work productively, as well as what got in the way. It found that what employees wanted was interesting work. Jobs where they were able to use their initiative and tasks that complemented their skills. Of those who said they were disengaged at work, 44 per cent said they felt over-qualified. This is partly a hangover from recent difficult economic times when many employees took jobs well below their skill level because they were the only jobs available. Ask yourself if you are allowing people to work to their full potential? A skills audit could help you uncover hidden talents and ensure you are allowing employees to play to their strengths.

Let technology take the strain

Technology has advanced enormously in recent years and sophisticated systems for everything from customer relationship management to stock control are now affordable and accessible to even the smallest business. A good HR system, for example, can cut out unnecessary and time-consuming admin. It will free HR people up to concentrate on the more strategic aspects of their role and will provide managers with a tool to lead their teams more effectively. HR no longer has to plough through numerous spreadsheets to extract the (often unreliable) people-related data needed to inform business decisions. It can be pulled out, analysed and presented in an easy-to-understand format with a few clicks of the mouse. Managers can get an overview of planned absence in their teams so they can resource projects more effectively. They can use automated performance management tools to identify skills gaps in their teams and keep people focused on priorities. Ask yourself if your HR software system is really delivering the goods.

Break down organisational barriers

Departmental silos and hierarchical structures often get in the way of people working at their best. Functions are protective of their territory and keep their cards close to their chest in case they end up competing for resources. Getting an answer to a simple question or authorisation for an action can take forever because you have to go through the ‘right’ channels. Internal social portals, which come as an integral part of many HR software solutions, can help to break down barriers and encourage the flow of information around the business. They allow people to connect and find synergies with colleagues, make it easy for people to access the information they need and encourage the collaborative approaches that are key to productivity.

Get flexible about job design

We are working in a global, 24/7 society – but many organisations are still stuck in a Monday-Friday, 9-5, rigid job rut. They have failed to recognise the business benefits that a more flexible workforce can bring, but have also not switched on to the fact that people will work more productively if they are not anxious about caring responsibilities or resentful because they don’t feel they are getting an appropriate work/life balance. Often, there’s no good reason for this inflexible approach to managing work – we just do it because it’s what we’ve always done. Designing jobs where people feel they have flexibility and a degree of autonomy is one sure-fire way of holding onto your best talent and getting people performing at peak.



Think it’s time for a new HR software system? See how our clients are using Cezanne HR: https://vimeo.com/142995750

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.