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Parsing productivity

In a world filled with distractions, the solutions to boosting workplace productivity often have nothing to do with key performance indicators.

Work smarter, not harder. It’s the productivity goal for all offices and an ongoing puzzle for managers — and employees — everywhere. The trick is finding just the right balance: efficiency and expertise at work and time left over for a rewarding life beyond the job.

Ontario author and productivity consultant Chris Bailey says he finds productivity endlessly fascinating. So fascinating, in fact, that he spent a full year doing daily experiments aimed at discovering the secrets to peak productivity. His insights, published in The Productivity Project and Hyperfocus, are often surprising. Not surprising is that Desjardins Group (seven million members, $295.5 billion in assets), recently recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, uses many of these productivity-boosting ideas in its day-to-day operations.

When it comes to productivity, the three key ingredients are time, attention and energy. All good, says Bailey, but within each of those three areas we need to pay attention to wellness. He was initially surprised to discover that practicing meditation and going to the gym made him far more productive. “Both focus our minds so we have more mental resources to give the world around us. If we take the time to do both these things, we make the time back — and then some.”

Desjardins encourages employees to embrace wellness through gym facilities at its headquarters while going many steps beyond by providing employee-assistance programs geared at helping staff and their immediate families free their minds from personal worries. “If we can take care of personal distractions, people feel well and can focus on their job,” says Marc-André Malboeuf, vice-president of human resources solutions development. Programs are in place to help staff with mental health, nutritional, legal and financial concerns. A current pilot project, likely to be rolled out to staff in the near future, promotes free telemedicine consultations so people can avoid the time and stress of visiting clinics for minor questions and concerns. “When you really get down to it, hardly anything will make someone more productive than becoming really engaged with their work,” says Bailey. “Never underestimate that.”

Desjardins began putting that concept into practise a few years ago. “We used to be very focused on measurements and key performance indicators (KPI) but we came to realize that that only gets you to a certain point,” says Malboeuf. Today, he and his fellow human resources colleagues have shifted the focus more towards ensuring employees are passionate about their clients and the work they do. Having a clear purpose makes everyone more productive, he adds.

Initiatives have included the launch of the Bravo program. It encourages employees and managers to exchange regular “bravos” based on achieving Desjardins’ five organizational goals. It also incorporates the new employee engagement tool Officevibe to allow for real-time employee-manager feedback.The essence of productivity is “doing the right things and doing those things deliberately and with intention behind them,” says Bailey. Many of those things are tried and true productivity boosters: keeping to-do lists or coming up with solutions for things such as email overload — things that allow workers to find clarity to do the truly important work.

Desjardins has tried to “do the right things” on an office-wide level by restructuring the physical office space so employees at all levels can interact more and share solutions. The HR team has also focused on providing more opportunities within the organization, thereby encouraging everyone to be more productive. “On a simple level, we know that if employees are more engaged, then they’re more productive. That’s where it starts,” says Malboeuf.

The proof is in the productivity, which has been on the upswing since Desjardins took steps to become more in touch with the wellbeing of its employees. “We’re always looking for new ways to make it easier to be fully engaged,” Malbouef says. “When we’re passionate about the work we do, that translates into productivity and, most importantly, a great experience for our clients.” ◊