The #1 Reason that Employees Lose Productivity

5 min. read

And how to fix it.

The most common reason that things do not get done is because we don’t understand. Uncertainty, confusion, or hesitation all come up when we're tackling a task and we don't fully know what it is or how to do it.

Understanding simply means:

  1. A clear or complete idea of something.
  2. Knowledge and ability to judge a subject or situation.
  3. Seeing how something works.
  4. Ability to know how other people are feeling, and forgive them if they do something wrong.

When it comes to our jobs, we rely on all these forms of understanding. So when understanding is missing, we struggle. We can't complete assigned tasks, we use the wrong approach to solve problems, we misunderstand our teammates feelings or intentions. We hesitate, and if we don't get to understanding, we'll be driven into frustration and unhappiness.

We all have the ability for understanding, but its the leadership and culture in a workplace that determines whether we have the support and conditions needed. MIT Sloan Management Review notes that employees, when asked about what they need in times of uncertainty, want "information about their job and the organization" and they want support in the form of "clear, fast, and accurate communication."

It's possible to fulfill these employee expectations, defeat confusion and uncertainty, and build understanding. Let's break out some tools to do it.

Create a Culture that is Safe for Understanding

Do employees know they are safe to ask questions when they don't understand something? Workplaces can fall into habits where employees — and leaders — ignore uncertainty and move ahead during communication even when they hear something they didn't understand. Commonly this happens because of face-saving, a motivation to "avoid having other people lose respect" for them. People don't feel safe. They fear asking questions because they think they'll lose respect from their coworkers and leaders. So people instead pretend that they do understand.

Overcome this by creating a culture of understanding. Culture is the shared attitudes and characteristics of people at a workplace. Attitudes are the way employees act at a workplace. Put another way, attitudes are "the way things are done" at a workplace. Characteristics are words used to describe the way employees collectively "act" at a workplace.

Create a culture of understanding starting with leaders. Pause discussions when any complex, unusual, or possibly confusing terms come up. Take the time to define them. People in the workplace will appreciate that leaders make the time and effort to ensure understanding.

After communicating information, stop and say "does this make sense, or did I make any of it confusing?" Take responsibility for ensuring the people around you get all the information they need to understand you.

Finally, communicate directly that it is not only okay to ask questions, it is encouraged. Give appreciation and recognition to employees who ask questions.

Develop Clear and Usable Job Descriptions

Employees need to understand their jobs. They need to know what tasks they do, what products they make, and what expectations are placed on them. Unfortunately, job descriptions are often long and complex — not easy to understand. It's common for them to have a lot of jargon (words that only some people regularly use and understand).

Consider creating simpler job descriptions. If necessary, these can be provided as a simplified addition to the legal job description created for each job. This description can skip the more complex stuff and focus on simply stating what tasks the employee does, what products the employee completes, and what specific performance expectations apply for the role. This description should use short sentences, words that are at a 9th grade reading level or below, and simple definitions for any jargon that has to be included.

Set Frequent Opportunities for Feedback, with no Agenda

Have leaders provide a monthly, open-ended, one-on-one meetings with their teams. This meeting is not a performance review, and it has no agenda. Leaders simply take 15 to 30 minutes with each person who reports to them and ask how they are doing. They offer to listen to anything that's going on, and provide support where it's wanted. They make sure employees have the things they need and want, if possible. They solve problems and remove misunderstanding. Employees get the sense that there is a regular place and time to bring questions or confusion and get it handled.

Understanding is part of the foundation of a happy workplace. If you’re looking for more ways to improve employee happiness, reach out to Amazing Workplace for a demo. We can show you how to measure understanding and other key conditions for happiness — and we can help you build your amazing workplace.