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The Business Leader’s Guide to Employee Productivity

It’s no secret that employees and business leaders are struggling in today’s workforce. In 2022, productivity levels faced the steepest decline ever seen since the government first started recording data in 1948.1 Yep, American workers are in a slump and need help . . . bad. So, how can we break out?

If you’re feeling the effect of the slump in your workplace, it might seem overwhelming—but it’s not impossible to fix with the right leadership. Businesses need leaders who set the tone for productivity through their own leadership and the company culture they build for their employees. So, what does that mean for you and your business? Let’s dig in and find out.

Setting the Tone for Employee Productivity

You can change the productivity levels of your company with two things: listening and pulling (aka being persuasive).

First, a real leader listens to their employees’ needs and finds ways to make each person successful. That’s called servant leadership, and it’s how you rewrite your company’s story and create a community that works together and supports each other. Because when leaders and employees have open communication, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.

Now here’s where pulling comes in. Being a great leader means you have to pull (persuade). Your job as a leader is to cast a vision that motivates your employees to do the work rather than forcing them to do the work. Think of work like a rope. A leader motivates the team to pull the rope over the finish line, but a boss pushes the rope for them. Have you ever tried pushing a rope? Yeah, it doesn’t go anywhere does it?

Listen—just giving your team more work isn’t going to make them more productive. It’s all about how you treat them. Your employees need to feel valued and bought into your company’s mission. That’s the only way your business is going to be more productive and break out of the slump the rest of the American workforce is slogging through right now.

Effective Methods to Increase Productivity

All right, you’re psyched and ready to lead your team in the right direction. You’re ready to get them out of this rut they’re in. Here are some specific ways we encourage employee productivity at Ramsey Solutions—and it’s no surprise the methods we use focus on respecting and celebrating employees. And it works!

Method 1: The Golden Rule

You already know employees perform better when they feel supported at work. But unfortunately, over two-thirds of employees don’t think their employers care about them, according to the 2022 SmartDollar Employee Benefits Study. By showing you care and following the Golden Rule, you’re less likely to have an employee engagement crisis.

So, what’s the Golden Rule? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And it’s the best way to build unity and loyalty with your employees.

Okay, that sounds great. Here’s what it looks like in action:

1. Support your employees through different life stages.

Employees go through all different stages of life when they work for you. Depending on your business, you may watch employees graduate high school or college, move across the country, get married, change careers, lose loved ones—you know, life. Some good and some bad. How do you want to be treated when life happens to you? Do that for your team! It’s that simple.

At Ramsey, we’ve walked with team members as they’ve expanded their families or dealt with tragic deaths. Why? Because if we were ever in their position, we would want a company that supports us through life’s big events instead of leaving us on the side of the road.

2. Take the extra effort to celebrate your employees’ accomplishments.

We get so much pleasure out of celebrating our team members. We’ve had hundreds of them welcome beautiful babies into this world, and we always share the news with our team. And when a team member pays off all their debt, we go absolutely crazy! Celebrating the accomplishments of your team members, whether big or small, sets the tone for the company. It says, “We’re here for you and care about you. And we want to see you win.”


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You can celebrate employees just like this at your company too. Send a congratulations email when someone is promoted or take someone on a birthday lunch outing. There are so many things you can do to show your employees you appreciate them. Don’t limit yourself!

3. Help your employees get out of debt!

Everybody wants out of debt, but not everyone knows how to do it—and this is affecting your employees. According to a study done by SmartDollar, 55% of employees worry about their finances daily. That means over half of your workforce is distracted during the day because they’re either not making enough money or have too much debt. Talk about an obvious reason for a drop in productivity.

Helping your employees get out of debt can improve employee productivity. Here’s how:

Remember: Applying the Golden Rule isn’t a magic lever you can pull to get more productivity from your team. Instead, it comes from the desire to serve them. It’s taking care of your most important business asset—your employees. And if you treat them with respect—the way you want to be treated—you’ll end up with a happier, more motivated, more productive team.  

Method 2: Employee Recognition

Remember when you had light-up shoes and everyone talked about how fast you ran? Yeah, those were the days. Sadly, at some point when we were growing up, people stopped bragging on each other. But you can bring back that spark by recognizing your employees’ accomplishments.

Your employees crave recognition. We’ve spent time and money recognizing our team members at Ramsey for decades. We know people like to feel appreciated, and we’ve found consistent effort in showing it improves the workplace. Remember: The behaviors you reward are the ones you’ll find others imitating because you praised them.

Recognition comes in many forms, but there are three consistent patterns in true recognition: going public, keeping it real, and sharing the love.

  1. Going public with recognition means you’re celebrating an employee in front of others, which packs a bigger punch.
  2. Keeping it real is all about transparency and sincerity. People can tell if you’re being fake when you hand out compliments and awards.
  3. Sharing the love is about recognizing that nobody can do anything on their own. So when you honor someone, mention other employees who helped them along the way. (Think of it like an award show when a recipient thanks everyone who helped them make it to the stage.)

When you do these three things, you’re showing your employees you truly appreciate their hard work and—because it’s so good—you want the world and workplace to know about it.

Employee recognition can be as simple as telling someone they’re doing a great job, sending a note or email that praises them, or highlighting a job well done in front of their team. When you get a chance to talk to your employee's spouse or family members, brag on them. Your employee is already special to them, and it will mean the world to know they’re special to you too.

We’ve done all these things at Ramsey, and it works wonders for morale and productivity. If you want your employees to love coming to work, start showing them some well-earned appreciation.

Method 3: Measure Employee Attitude and Engagement

The 2022 SmartDollar Employee Benefits Study found that employees experience burnout and stress at alarming rates. Check out how they felt at work in the last month:

  • 66% report experiencing stress
  • 56% report feeling burned out
  • 57% report feeling overwhelmed at work

All this burnout and stress is wearing on your team’s mental health, and you can see its direct effect on productivity. According to a recent study by Gallup, 19% of employees rate their mental health as fair or poor, resulting in nearly 12 unplanned absences a year.2 Those who rated their mental health as good, very good, or excellent only missed two and a half days a year.

So, what’s our point? One of the biggest reasons America’s workforce has been so unproductive lately is because they’re drowning in their lack of work-life balance.

But what can you do to help? First, you need to get an understanding of your employees’ work-life balance. And the best way to gauge that is to pay attention to them. A bad work-life balance shows up as a negative attitude and a visible lack of engagement.

  • Do your employees dread coming to work in the morning?
  • Are they constantly showing up late?
  • What does their body language tell you?
  • Do they participate in the conversation during meetings?
  • What kind of comments do they make?

Improving employee productivity means paying attention to your employees’ attitudes and engagement with personal conversations, small group meetings and surveys. Talking with your employees is the first step toward figuring out how you can help them.

Maybe you have employees who need mental health assistance. Maybe others are struggling in their current role and might thrive in another position. And as hard as it may be, you may need to let some employees go to increase overall employee productivity. That’s right. If you have team members who aren’t motivated by your company’s mission, you need to let them find a new place where they can be engaged and productive. It’s better for them and better for your business.

Method 4: Encourage Employees to Build Relationships

We’ve learned over many years that work moves at the speed of trust. The faster your employees can build trust with each other, the more productive your business will be. That’s why it’s important to encourage your employees to build relationships with each other.

Again, you set the tone for how important this is in your culture. Organize times for your employees to come together and not talk about work.

At Ramsey, we’ve had great success in offering food at events to help our team members connect. Whether it’s catered by a local restaurant, your office building’s cafeteria, or a company potluck—food brings people together.

When employees feel like they can relax and enjoy spending time with their coworkers, they’ll be more engaged and productive at work. There’s a level of trust and comfort that comes with relaxing and talking that can’t be earned by working.

One of the coolest things we’ve seen at Ramsey is that as team members spend more time together in organized settings, they inevitably start spending more time with each other throughout the week in spontaneous lunch meetings, book study groups and other social meetups.

Another great way to build trust through relationships is with competition. Friendly competition encourages employees to exceed expectations (which helps your business) and lifts their spirits.

The SmartDollar team recently met five different goals in Q4 that resulted in a fun outing where team members spent the afternoon bowling and hanging out together. What made it more exciting is that people involved got to choose the reward before they tackled the goals. So the entire quarter of work was targeted and focused.

Let your team tell you what motivates them and use it to improve employee productivity and engagement. The more quality time your employees spend together, the better their collaboration can be.

Method 5: Encourage Employees to Unplug From Work

Family is the glue that holds your employees together. It’s the reason many of them come to work every day. At Ramsey, we value family. We want every team member to know their family comes first. So we encourage team members to unplug from work when they go home.

Our team members don’t check their emails at home. They don’t work late at night on a project. They don’t miss important moments with their kids because of work.

Occasionally, we have a project that needs more man-hours than we can fit into a regular workday or week. But situations like that are a season—there’s a beginning and an end. It’s not a way of life. If it starts becoming a habit, it’s time to have a conversation about that team member’s workload to find options to get it under control. 

Think about your business. How often do your employees work overtime? Do emails come in and out on the weekend? That might seem productive, but it’s harmful. Your employees can’t turn their work brains off. They can’t recharge. They’re physically with family and friends, but they’re not actively engaged or connecting with them. They’re thinking about work. Constantly. It’s not healthy.

If you want employee productivity to rise, let people go home and unplug from work. Let them relax and decompress. When your employees have energy at the end of the day to spend on their families, they’re more likely to come back the next day reenergized and ready to be productive.

Ready to Increase Employee Productivity?

Employee productivity starts with the leaders. When you set the tone by building a healthy culture, you start a ripple effect that inspires your employees to follow your lead with improved engagement and productivity.

Increasing employee productivity is really all about taking care of the most important people in your building—your employees. Talk with them. Find what motivates them and meet their needs. And don’t forget, one of the fastest ways to improve your employee’s lives (and your company’s productivity) is with a financial wellness benefit like SmartDollar.

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Ramsey Solutions

About the author


Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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