Uncertainty has abounded for businesses in the past 24 months. Whether they adapted to operational transitions, supply chain disruptions or hiring challenges, unpredictability was par for the course.
Assessing this unpredictable business landscape, the New York Times noted (paywall), “at companies large and small, new and old, public and private, 2021 was a year that played havoc with expectations. Through it all, C.E.O.s swapped some of their favorite tropes—timelines, confidence, strategic plans—for something new: saying ‘I don’t know.’ Or even: ‘I changed my mind.’”
It’s no surprise then that business leaders are grasping for some semblance of certainty. They are consulting with experts, reading the tea leaves and, most importantly, digging into the data. This is especially true when measuring employee productivity.
The once-rapid, now-expansive transition to remote or hybrid work arrangements has left many companies hungry for new and better insights into their employees’ productivity. In other words, they are searching for certainty.
With nearly 80% of companies using employee monitoring software, they have no shortage of data to aggregate and analyze. This increasingly capable software can track everything from keystrokes to social media use. However, when wrongly applied, this information offers misguided insights into employee productivity and organizational well-being.
For leaders looking for certainty in the numbers, here are three employee metrics worth measuring in the year ahead.
Many leaders struggle to trust that their teams are engaged and working hard when they are not in the office. In many ways, this isn’t a new issue. An expansive 1999 study on emerging telework trends found that management’s trust of employees was a top challenge for companies transitioning to decentralized work arrangements.
A 2020, Harvard Business Review survey (registration required) identified similar sentiments as “thirty-eight percent of managers agreed that remote workers usually perform worse than those who work in an office.”
This perception injects stress, fear and distrust into the workplace, eroding company culture and negatively impacting employees and managers alike.
Companies should consider measuring employee engagement rather than relying on assumptions or anecdotal evidence. They might even like what they find. Several workplace surveys and studies found that employee productivity actually improved when their companies switched to remote work, undermining assumptions that remote workers are inherently less engaged than their on-site counterparts.
Of course, leaders should be transparent with their processes and upfront about their expectations. When everyone is working from the rulebook, leaders can be more certain than ever that their employees are engaged, regardless of location.
While monitoring and measuring employee engagement provides critical insights into a company’s well-being, it also paints an incomplete picture. That’s why leaders should refrain from using activity alone as a barometer for success.
For instance, it’s easy to conflate activity for productivity, something the writer John Herrman describes as “work-like non-work,” which can include everything from getting lost in a Slack thread to prioritizing non-essential tasks over core job functions.
In response, companies should couple employee engagement metrics with outcome analysis, bringing clarity and comfort to businesses navigating this transformational moment. More specifically, take time to determine your key performance indicators (KPIs), and measure progress toward these limited but specific outcomes.
Thriving companies are built and sustained by flourishing people. After a pandemic period where fear, uncertainty and doubt were ubiquitous, many people are struggling like never before.
Surveys and studies consistently reveal troubling rates of anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness. These mental health challenges may or may not be caused by work, but they definitely have important implications for leaders and their teams. That’s why companies should double down on their investments in employee well-being, including:
• Restoring Or Maintaining Work/Life Balance: Many people significantly expanded their workdays during the pandemic, eroding any remaining semblance of work/life balance. Businesses should know how much their employees are working and they should give them the technical tools, financial resources and explicit endorsement to take back their time.
• Valuing Employees Time: It’s difficult to prioritize physical, mental and emotional health when work demands constantly loom large. Employees consistently report that uninterrupted time is a key component to enhanced productivity and reduced stress. Some companies, including Microsoft (registration required), have analyzed worker data to identify and prioritize peak productivity hours so that employees have more time for what matters most.
• Regularly Recognize Great Work: According to a Gallup survey, less than one-third of employees report receiving recognition praise in the past week. This low-cost, high-reward practice can boost employee morale, build trust and connectedness and enhance everyone’s well-being.
Employee well-being may not show up in the earnings projections, but it’s a foundational element of a thriving company, making it one metric that’s undoubtedly worth measuring.
Measuring For Clarity
Measuring the right metrics can bring clarity during a confusing time by helping businesses make better decisions while empowering leaders to support their teams even in unfamiliar terrain.
In 2022, businesses can measure employee engagement, outcomes and well-being to make decisions with lasting impact. In this way, the popular online mantra “data has a better idea” can practically affect the organization. Of course, having the right data is only as important as what you do with it at the end of the day.
That’s why, for leaders looking for certainty, the first move is usually theirs to make.