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James Lowery


Co-Lead at Storey

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Complacency kills: three ways for SMEs to foster employee engagement and productivity


The UK has a productivity problem, and SMEs need to better engage with their employees to boost performance.

ONS stats suggest that worker output per hour saw year-on-year declines of 0.3% on Q2 2017, and that workers in 2016 produced 15.1% less than workers in other G7 countries.

It’s a significant gap, and it’s worth thinking about how your company might bridge it. Even if your productivity is significantly better than the norm, there’s every chance that your talent isn’t as engaged with your business – or the work they do for it – as they could be.

And if they aren’t engaged, employees won’t perform as well as they could, the company won’t grow as quickly as it could, and key members of staff may leave for pastures new.

Maximising productivity will do more for your company than any single investment, hire, or new business campaign. Here are three of the most effective ways to help boost employee engagement.

1. Review your rewards

Money is one of the most important ways to incentivise your employees, but it’s not the only way. It’s essential to regularly review your perks and benefits system. What do you have to offer beyond a competitive salary?

This isn’t necessarily about Google-style nap pods or free food. These things can help, but if you’re not running that kind of business, you shouldn’t shoehorn them in.

A draining, discouraging environment leads to drained, discouraged employees.

Instead, think about what might foster and sustain employee motivation. If buying new desks and beanbag chairs will help, do that. If monthly performance and results-based cash prizes or vouchers will help, introduce those as well.

Some employee benefit providers offer a series of discounts and rewards within one convenient platform. This might be a useful way of offloading much of the process, though you’ll want to make sure the perks on offer are relevant to your people’s interests and lifestyles.

Employing perks is an easy way to offer your staff a sense of reward and incentive – both of which are key to ensuring they stay with you in the long run.

2. Overhaul your office

A draining, discouraging environment leads to drained, discouraged employees. Storey’s own research suggests that 25% of SME owners consider low employee morale as the biggest blocker of team productivity. Make sure your workspace is set up to foster productivity and engagement. Monotony and dullness can kill employee motivation and company profits.

Accordingly, it’s essential to make sure your staff are benefiting from a suitable workspace. Many businesses might not be in a position to make drastic changes to the office – time and money are precious and limited resources, after all – but you can create a more hospitable and productive environment.

Storey’s research indicates that 20% of SME owners would prefer a better meeting room space, and that 15% would like a ‘chill out zone’. Introducing these elements may have an effect on employee morale.

Alternatively, you can give employees more options for how they interact with the office environment. Flexible working can enable them to choose their hours (within reason), and working from home occasionally can offer a big advantage to employees with children, pets, or other requirements.

Simple quality-of-life improvements such as reliable, high-speed internet, clean and capacious kitchen facilities, gym access (or subsidies) and a good location can make all the difference in the world.

3. Communicate more effectively

Communicating with staff is an essential and often neglected means of boosting morale and productivity.

The way you actually communicate with your people is largely up to you. There’s scope for plenty of variety here, but make sure staff share in your vision and understand how their role contributes to it. The key is to make them feel involved and invested in the goings-on of your business.

The best employee in the world will be of little use to you if they feel disengaged from your team and your vision.

Employees who have disengaged from your mission and your goals are very hard to re-attach.

Company socials can be a great way of ensuring that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet: when teams feel isolated, they can be a great way of bringing them together and improving the atmosphere in the office. But parties alone aren’t going to cut it.

It’s going to take a concerted, comprehensive and thoughtful effort on your part to cultivate strong communication and forge stronger bonds between all members of staff.

Whatever you do, don’t leave it until the last minute. Toxic environments are very difficult to turn around, and employees who have disengaged from your mission and your goals are very hard to re-attach.

Motivating your employees and maximising your productivity are both essential objectives – and if you haven’t met them yet, there won’t ever be a better time to start than right now.

Author Profile Picture
James Lowery

Co-Lead at Storey

Read more from James Lowery

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