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In his recent post, “What really hurts productivity?,” on his Recognize This! blog, Derek Irvine makes a compelling case for how too many rules can lead to a decrease in employee productivity. His argument is geared toward employee recognition programs, which he says can have an inadvertently negative effect on productivity and engagement—particularly for programs that focus on creating strict eligibility criteria.“It is not a stretch to assume that many employees—particularly those already showing up on time—would perceive these criteria as unnecessary rules placed on how and when work is accomplished,” he writes. “These employees most likely value their autonomy at work, and consequently, will be more reactive toward any perceived restriction in freedom.” So these types of program, in Derek’s view, can essentially backfire.
While we agree that more freedom can be a positive, in our findings and work with organizations for over a decade, we’ve found that many employees struggle managing day-to-day tasks without stress and lower productivity. Combining structure and freedom for focused work, collaboration, and play can lead to much greater productivity overall. This is particularly so with structuring one’s workday, taking breaks, not requiring instant email responses, and using alternative tools like webinars and cloud-based documents, instead of just email.
What do you think about the balance between freedom and structure at work when it comes to employee productivity? Do organizations need a combination of both? Do you yourself find that you’re more productive with either more or less structure? What about your department or team? Please share your thoughts below.