While the definition of poor work performance changes, the causes of the performance gap seem to be universal no matter the industry, company, job description, or typical group of people. Some causal factors of low or high performance are employee – centric issues and others are organization issues. These tend to overlap. Most issues are influenced by both the employee and the organization. For example, if Employee A’s manager asks him why he has only been averaging seventy – five phone calls per hour, he could hear one or both of the following reasons:
Example #1: “I am distracted because my wife is due to have a baby. Every time I hear a phone ring I think it is her calling to tell me that she is going to the hospital.”
Example #2: “My coworkers are bothering me. The one on my left keeps laughing really loud and the one on my right asks me a question every few minutes. I can’t concentrate on my own calls with all of these interruptions.”
The first example is an employee issue. His life at home is leaking into his life at work. In other words his work / life balance is off. The organization can do little to help him. He is in control of how distracted he is or is not. Example #2 is an organization issue. Because of the way the office set up its employees right next to each other, and because of the managers’ ineffectiveness to keep his coworkers quiet and train the rookies, he is distracted by factors he can’t control. Because companies have little to no influence on what is happening in the employees’ life that might cause disruptions, they have to focus on the organization’s factors. Below are the top five causes of poor work performance, specifically ones that companies can cause or allow to happen, and therefore they are the ones that can be fixed.
- Lack of sound privacy. Every worker is unique. Employee A might be productive when there is loud music in the background. That same music might be distracting and annoying to Employee B. Employee A could train himself to hear his coworkers conversations as simple white noise in the background while Employee B can’t help but listen intently to whatever is being said. Additional noises such as tapping on computer keyboards and squeaking chairs are also big distractions. This cause can be fixed with additional partitions and noise-cancelling headphones.
- Lack of visual privacy. No employees have reported that they like it when someone is looking over their shoulder. Those who have their desks set up right in their manager’s line of sight say that adds additional, unnecessary stress. Managers typically think that their presence makes employees more productive but the result is the exact opposite. Workers are less likely to play online games and surf social media sites when someone can easily see them, but studies show that does not improve work performance.
- Lack of personal space / Overcrowding. Open office models typically put four to ten people around one table. They each have their own chair, their own computer, and their own basic office supplies like pens, but nothing else belongs to them. They are literally bumping elbows and they do not have the opportunity to make the space their own. No pictures of their kids and their pets, no calendar with quotes from their favorite comedian or politicians, and no jar of their favorite candy. When an employee feels “at home” at work, he works better. Companies need to give employees the opportunity to personalize their space.
- Inability to control the environment. An employee who is shivering because he is cold, or sweating because he is hot, is an ineffective worker. The same employees need to be able to adjust the curtains or shades on the windows when the sun is getting in their eyes. He needs a chair that can be adjusted up and down, left and right, and is not different the next day because someone else sat in it after he did.
- Second – guessing, or excessive mistakes due to poor training. A company’s first priority should be making sure that their employees are well trained. That way they will not be interrupting each other with questions, or doing their own work slowly because they are struggling to remember what to do next or how to do it.
In order to get ideal work from their employees, businesses must create the ideal work environments. This goes beyond ensuring occupational health and safety. It goes beyond making sure that the workplace is clean, beyond having water fountains and bathrooms that work, and beyond managerial accountability. With so little influence over an employee’s ability to balance work and life, work must be the focus. Recently big name companies like Google, Facebook, and Square have been praising the open office model. In order to improve managerial accessibility, transparency, and employees’ opportunities to collaborate, their workspaces have done away with enclosed offices and individual cubicles. They have literally taken the walls down between their employees.
Those same employees agree across the board that the open office model does get them more face – time with their coworkers. However, they also report the following negative consequences of it: lack of sound privacy, lack of visual privacy, overcrowded workspaces and an inability to control their personal space / environment. Only twenty five percent, that is one in four workers in the United States, say that they work in the ideal environment for peak job performance. The causes of poor work performance are not a problem for that twenty percent because they have sound privacy, visual privacy, and their workspaces are not overcrowded. Companies must prioritize and invest in creating these ideal environments not only for their employees but for the business at large.