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Are Less Than 20% of Employees Responsible for Your Biggest Productivity Losses?


We all know how important it is to abide by the old “work smarter not harder” adage. And the work world is full of advice on how to achieve it:

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These how-to tips and checklists all revolve around steps employees can take to increase efficiency: Eat healthy foods. Eliminate distractions. Take breaks.

But where do employers come in? Don’t executives and companies themselves play an important role in employee productivity?

Based on our extensive research here at Emplify, the answer is most definitely “yes.” Here’s why…

The 80-20 Rule of Employee Productivity

The Pareto principle states that 80% of a business’s outcomes can be attributed to 20% of the effort that was applied (e.g., 80% of revenue is attributed to 20% of total customers.)

So when we analyzed companies using Emplify for our employee engagement report and saw that 82% scored as “moderately,” “highly,” or “extremely engaged,” we knew there was more to the story.

Now, let me just say that 82% is remarkably high. It’s important to note that this number was derived from a sampling of companies that are actively working to understand and improve engagement. The executives at these businesses are continually monitoring engagement levels, uncovering issues, and creating initiatives to address problems.

And yet…

The other 18% of employees in our report fell within the range of “disengaged” to “extremely disengaged.” This portion, though small, can be surprisingly costly to businesses.

We know employee engagement has a direct impact on employee productivity. So what happens if we apply the Pareto principle to employee engagement and productivity? Even a small, less-than-twenty-percent group of disengaged employees can lead to far-reaching negative outcomes.

You don’t have to look far to see this problem play out or to understand its implications. Countless studies over the years have shown just how much disengagement can cost companies.

One study estimates that a highly disengaged employee will cost a company as much as $12,000 a year, in part because the mere presence of a “toxic” worker can lead to turnover among colleagues who are otherwise engaged. So if you have 200 employees and 18% are contributing the minimum needed to collect their paychecks, that means you could be looking at $432,000 in lost productivity caused by one employee. Another often-cited survey shows how businesses are losing $550 billion a year because of issues related to disengagement.

On the other hand, engagement and happiness at work have been shown to boost productivity by 12% to 22%, depending on which study you’re looking at.

For this reason, it’s incredibly important to pay attention to disengaged employees—even when they form a relatively small percentage of an overall workforce.

The Key to Unlocking Engagement and Productivity

It might be easy to assume that some employees just can’t be satisfied or made to find meaning in their work. But that would be a big mistake. There’s almost always something happening under the surface to cause disengagement. You just have to know where to look, and how to find it.

That’s where measuring employee engagement comes into play. Many companies are starting to regularly collect candid, honest employee feedback so they can review results based on departments, teams, tenures, and more. That way, leadership is able to pinpoint when low levels of engagement correlate with specific potential causes—such as a particular office location or management style.

If you’d like to see real-world examples of this type of measurement in action, I highly recommend taking 15 minutes to read the Employee Engagement Trends Report. You’ll find data on the least and most engaged members of the workforce, insights across industries and job types, and takeaway tips that can be used to measure and improve engagement within your own organization.

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