The invisible productivity factors

Ah, productivity. It’s the Holy Grail for any manager in any workplace: “How can I get my team to produce the most they possibly can, without totally grinding them into the floor?!”

It’s not that we think our employees are lazy. It’s not even that we see them as expendable! Most times, it’s that we simply don’t know which factors influence productivity the most – and we’re therefore confused about which buttons to press, and which buttons to leave the hell alone!

In our quest for boosting productivity, there are a bunch of obvious factors that get marched up and down the catwalk. Money is a big one, for example.

But there are also a whole bunch of invisible factors that sometimes, we never even consider! And that’s what this article is about – the less tangible productivity factors which may get overlooked, but which can have a crazy impact on output.

Let’s start with the obvious

Before we get into the less tangible productivity factors, it’s worth mentioning a few of the most obvious factors. After all, to ignore these would be to look at an incomplete picture. And some of these more tangible factors really need to be in place as absolute essentials before you start looking at the less visible factors.

For example, salary.

Money money money

Salary, undeniably, plays a pivotal role in our work lives, influencing not just our lifestyle but also our performance at work. A study from the Harvard Business Review brought a fairly compelling perspective on this, concluding that Amazon would actually be a more productive company if it paid its workers a better wage.

You can be the best employer in the world in every other sense, but if you fail to pay your employees a decent wage, you simply won’t get the best out of them.

But higher pay doesn’t just influence productivity by filling our pockets, and making us more comfortable… it also subtly elevates our stakes in the game. And that’s because the more we earn, the more we potentially stand to lose. Therefore, when we are earning more, we are more likely to want to work harder, because we want to earn the right to stay where we are.

Our environment

Switching gears a bit, let’s consider another tangible factor: our physical work environment.

According to research from Science Direct, elements like temperature, air quality and noise aren’t mere background settings. They significantly influence our concentration and, in turn, our productivity. A composer wouldn’t try to pen a masterpiece in a bustling, chaotic room – the environment, with its subtle disruptions, would inadvertently dictate the flow and quality of work.

And it goes right down to the type of lighting we use, too. Even the National Library of Medicine talks about the impact of poor lighting on productivity. (Hint: it destroys it.)

Tools for the job

Let’s not forget to consider the factors right in front of our faces: The tools and technology that we’re using to do our jobs.

While tools and technology might seem like straightforward factors, they too have their nuances. The right tools can streamline processes, enhance efficiency, and reduce workload, thereby indirectly influencing our mental workload and stress levels.

The ease and functionality they bring to our daily tasks can’t be overstated, and while they might not directly impact our emotional or mental state, their role in shaping our workday is undeniable.

The tangible meets the intangible

But here’s where it gets interesting. These tangible factors, while crucial, only tell half the story.

You might think that giving your workers the right pay, the right tools and the right environment is all you can do to make them more productive, but it really isn’t! There’s an intricate web of invisible factors at play, silently weaving through our workdays, influencing our performance in ways we might not even realize.

These invisible factors are often overshadowed. But they carry a weight that can profoundly influence our work performance. We’re talking here about the unnoticed elements like our relationship with our manager, the psychological safety within our team, and the freedom we have to express our individuality.

These factors actively shape, influence, and define our work experience, playing a crucial role in determining not just our productivity, but our overall satisfaction and engagement at work. Which is why the real focus of this article is looking at the intangible factors that influence the efficiency levels of our employees.

The four most crucial (yet least visible) productivity factors revealed

There are three huge productivity factors that play a massive role in helping our teams work to their fullest potential (and at maximum efficiency). These are:

  1. The manager-employee relationship
  2. Freedom of expression and individuality
  3. Psychological safety and belonging
  4. Work-life balance and flexibility

We’re going to look at each of these individually, to examine why they’re so important for productivity – and why you can’t really afford to forget about them.

The manager-employee relationship

As we explored the web of workplace productivity for the purpose of this article, we found that the manager-employee relationship is a pivotal, yet often overlooked, component.

A harmonious relationship between managers and their team members can significantly boost morale and, consequently, productivity. A study by Gallup found that highly engaged organizations share many common philosophies and practices, including placing utmost importance on hiring and developing great managers. This, and countless other studies, underscores the critical impact of managerial style and the symbiotic fit between a manager and their team.

And it’s not just about working with a manager who helps you feel great at work and do a great job. There’s a subtle undercurrent, as outlined by, where exceptional managers can detect things with their team members such as problems at home, or other worries in their life, which can be dealt with effectively before they go on to destroy that person’s productivity and general attitude at work.

Freedom of expression and individuality

Whether we’re loud attention-seekers, quiet introverts, or anything in between… we all value our own individuality. And that’s just as true in a workplace setting, as it is in a leisure setting. So let’s take a moment to spotlight the significance of having room for individuality and expression in the workplace.

When employees feel they can express their individuality, it not only enhances their well-being but also propels creativity and innovation. In fact, a study by Deloitte revealed that 83% of millennials are actively engaged when they believe their organization fosters an inclusive culture.

Read more: How autonomy influences mood and productivity

So what are you doing in your workplace to ensure employees can feel like they are able to be themselves? Maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re expecting everybody to model themselves as if they’re a fresh-cut cookie from your cookie-cutter template of values and beliefs.

Look, it’s important to align workplace personalities with our company values. But not at the expense of removing individuality – that’s actually good for productivity, so it’s time we celebrate it a little more.

Psychological safety and belonging

The term “psychological safety,” as coined by Amy Edmondson, refers to a person’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk. If they fear retribution for making mistakes, they are likely to take a highly conservative attitude to their work. Which sometimes can be good… but most of the time, stifles growth, ambition, and yes, productivity.

In a psychologically safe work environment, employees are not afraid to express their thoughts and are confident that they won’t face punishment or humiliation.

Read more: 10 ways to improve emotional safety in the workplace

Many studies have been carried out that have concluded the highest-performing teams have psychological safety in common. So consider whether you’re leading your teams through a regime of fear of retribution… or whether you’re making people feel OK about making decisions and taking risks.

Work-life balance and flexibility

We’re not trying to turn up the heat here on the return-to-the-office debate. Work-life balance and flexibility goes beyond simply “home working options”, and is a highly dynamic topic that means different things to different people.

But the role of work-life balance and flexibility, in enhancing productivity, should not be overlooked. If you’re being overly prescriptive about how, where and when people should be “clocked on”, then you may be doing yourself the opposite of a favor.

The ability to balance work demands with personal life not only reduces stress but also enhances overall job satisfaction and performance. A case in point is this study from 2021, that found flexible work arrangements significantly improved employee outcomes.

The ripple effects of invisible factors

It’s not difficult to realize that the unseen elements often have the most profound impact. Take employee well-being, for instance. The intangible factors we’ve discussed don’t just influence productivity; they play a pivotal role in an employee’s mental and emotional health. When individuals feel understood, valued, and safe in their work environment, it naturally fosters a sense of well-being.

Job satisfaction and engagement are closely tied to this sense of well-being. When employees can bring their authentic selves to work, when they feel they have a voice and are heard, it’s no surprise that their satisfaction levels soar. Engaged employees aren’t just clocking in and out; they’re invested in their roles, eager to contribute, and passionate about their work.

And if we look at the broader organizational landscape, we can see that these invisible factors have a tangible impact on success metrics. For example, high employee turnover is a concern for many companies, and often, the root causes are these very intangible elements discussed above. It may not always come out in the exit interviews, and we may not always realize we even have a problem… but when employees feel undervalued or out of place, they’re more likely to seek opportunities elsewhere. Whereas, on the flip side, a positive and inclusive work environment can significantly reduce turnover, leading to continuity and growth.

And let’s not forget the dynamics within a team. The invisible factors play a crucial role in how team members interact, collaborate, and communicate. A team that feels safe and valued is more likely to have open communication channels, leading to better collaboration. Moreover, when conflicts arise, as they inevitably do, teams grounded in mutual respect and understanding are better equipped to navigate these challenges, ensuring harmony and cohesion.

In essence, the ripple effects of these invisible factors are far-reaching, influencing individual well-being, organizational success, and team dynamics.

Implementing a program to improve productivity

So what should you do to improve productivity in the workplace? Should you focus on tangible elements, like pay, environment and equipment? Or should you be investing your budget into the less tangible factors such as better management and flexible working arrangements?

1. Taking a holistic approach to productivity

We hate to say it, but there is no silver bullet.

When we talk about productivity, it’s easy to get caught up in the tangible metrics and overlook the less obvious, yet equally crucial, factors. You should absolutely get your pay, environment and equipment right as a base level. But recognizing and valuing these invisible factors is the first step towards a holistic approach to productivity. Think less about the numbers on a spreadsheet, and more about the well-being of the people behind those numbers.

For organizations aiming to harness the full potential of their workforce, leadership training and development are paramount. Leaders set the tone for the entire organisation. By equipping them with the right tools and knowledge, they can foster an environment that values both tangible and intangible productivity factors.

A holistic business approach connects every department in an organization, ensuring they work as one cohesive unit towards a shared goal. And if you don’t know what we’re talking about with our “holistic business approach”, then Indeed has a great write-up on it right here.

2. Put it in your policies

Creating policies that uphold these invisible factors is equally essential. It’s one thing to recognize their importance, but another to actively implement strategies that promote them.

For instance, policies that prioritize employee well-being, encourage open communication, and provide avenues for continuous learning can make a world of difference.

3. Encourage employees to step up to the plate

It’s not all on you. Your employees have a role to play, too.

If employees feel that certain invisible factors are affecting their productivity, it’s essential to communicate this to their superiors. Constructive feedback is the lifeblood of continuous improvement. By engaging in open dialogues with management, employees can help shape policies and practices that cater to both tangible and intangible productivity factors.

Read more: Does employee happiness impact productivity?

So write to your workforce and tell them that you’re trying to make work a better place to be – and encourage them to speak up about anything that they feel may be impacting their happiness, engagement, or productivity at work.

Overcoming challenges on your road to success

While the benefits of recognizing and addressing invisible productivity factors are evident, the journey to implementing a new approach is tough. And one of the primary roadblocks organizations face is the potential resistance to change.

Introducing new strategies or altering existing ones can be met with scepticism, especially if the changes seem to deviate from the traditional norms of the organization. Yes, even if these changes are ultimately in a person’s best interests!

So it’s essential to understand that while the end goal is to enhance productivity, the path might require patience, persistence, and a lot of convincing.

Criticisms often arise from a lack of understanding or fear of the unknown. And you may even face resistance from those who sit at the top table, who don’t want to hear about these “wishy-washy” invisible factors. Some might argue that focusing too much on intangible factors can divert attention from the primary business goals. Others might feel that it’s just another corporate buzzword with no real impact.

However, the research is solid, so you must simply approach these challenges proactively. Educate your colleagues on the importance of invisible productivity factors and how they tie into the overall success of the company. It’s also crucial to gather feedback, address concerns, and be open to making adjustments based on the needs and feedback of the employees. After all, a holistic approach to productivity is not a one-size-fits-all solution but a continuous journey of learning, adapting, and growing.