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I spend a lot of my day wasting time on Reddit.  Because I work freelance, the time I waste is entirely my own.  But I would guess that a lot of your employees are checking out Reddit on the clock, not to mention Facebook, Instagram, personal emails, YouTube videos, and a host of other fun and entirely non-productive distractions.

You may think your employees are busy.  After all, they seem to be typing furiously, moving around stacks of paper, and going home exhausted at the end of the day.  But here are some actual quotes from my fellow Redditors, talking about how they spend their day in the office:

Every morning when I arrive at my desk, I pull out a stack of papers from my drawer that are old and useless and I scatter them around. Whenever bossman comes around I hide my internet browser, which usually has something not work-related on it, pick up the papers and “organize” them or pretend to read them. At the end of day I put them back into my drawer to be retrieved the next day.  I’m considered one of the top performers in my group so I’m not really sure what my coworkers are doing.

Yikes.  Here’s another one:

I’ve had so many jobs where I thought I was slacking off so much, until I realized I was one of the hardest workers in the office.  Then I triple the total slack-off.

How about this employee-of-the-month:

Some of [my fake papers] have stuff high lighted on them. Sometimes I mark things off and furrow my brow. I shuffle them around, stack them up etc. some times I put them in a binder. Or a clipboard. Sometimes I just walk around holding the clip board. No one questions you when you have a clipboard. If I pull up a nonsense screen in the computer and glance at it and then the paper work a lot, it really looks like I’m working hard.  I’m constantly told how valuable I am to the company.

Sigh.  There’s more:

Sometimes I just write nonsense out on paper.  I’ll just start writing like “I’m only writing this to look busy…stuff stuff stuff…writing stuff..looking busy”.  I’ll write a whole page out like that and then throw it away.

And finally this tragic statement:


Honestly, I would do more work if there was any to do. There just isn’t. And I know better than to ask people for work and reveal that I have nothing to do.

I can virtually guarantee that if you don’t have stringent measures in place to monitor productivity, you probably have at least one person like this at your office, and probably multiple people.  When I’ve worked in offices where my co-workers were slacking off, the expectations were pathetically low.  Because everyone was doing so little, management assumed the incredibly low threshold was the most work that could be done.

How To Increase Employee Productivity:

1. Determine The Appropriate Workload

Why not spend a day working each position in your office?  If you have no idea how much can be accomplished each day, you won’t have any conception of how to set expectations.

2. Set Clear Numerical Expectations

You don’t want your employees to feel like they’re working on an assembly line, but there should be timelines for projects and guidelines for output.  For instance, I worked in a human resource department where the agents had to answer calls, live chats, and email requests.  They were encouraged to spend the time to resolve difficult issues, but we carefully monitored how many calls, chats, and emails were completed each day.  If a particular employee was only managing half what we expected, they needed to increase their output or find another job.  There’s no point paying an employee a full salary to do only half what someone can do.

3. Make Downtime Productive

Breaks and lunch hours can easily take over the entire work day if employees aren’t responsible.  I once worked with a bunch of smokers who easily spent 2-3 hours per day out on the patio taking their cigarette breaks.  Good managers will monitor break time so employees are rested, but don’t take advantage.  Great managers will take employee downtime a step further – consider this comment by an office worker who receives free lunches:

My company provides a free lunch for everyone. The CEO explained it to me like this: ‘You’ll start thinking about lunch around 11:30, so you’ll talk to people about where you want to go and who to go with. Then you’ll drive there, wait in line, sit down to eat, pay for it, and drive back. So maybe by 1:15 or 1:30 you’re back at work. So a one hour lunch becomes two hours and stress. By providing lunch, you just get up from your desk, wait in line in the office, sit with coworkers and can talk about work stuff the whole time. And because it’s the whole company you get to talk to people in other departments which helps with company culture and creates the opportunity for sharing skills. Plus it’s a great perk to bring in new hires.’

You don’t want to rob employees of their downtime, but you can certainly find creative opportunities to make even breaks an avenue for communication, bonding, and brainstorming.

4. Reward Productivity

Incentives are always more powerful than punishment.  When you set up rewards for your employees, they will surprise themselves with the productivity they can achieve.  Remember, what gets rewarded gets done.  If you want to increase productivity in your office, you need to reward specific behaviors and specific goals with a points system, gift cards, cash bonuses, afternoons off, or whatever else will spur your employees to new heights.

It’s natural for hiring managers to make their decisions based primarily off experience.  After all, if an employee crashes and burns, it’s a lot more comfortable to be able to say, “But they had such a great resume!” instead of admitting that you took a risk.  When someone looks good on paper, you feel confident justifying your recommendation.  However, a traditional resume is likely to get you traditional results.  If you’re thrilled with your current employees, then that’s not a problem – keep doing what you’re doing.  But if you’re looking to make a change in your organization, then you need to change your hiring practices.  If you need new blood, someone with a fresh perspective, then it might be time to look outside the box for an unconventional superstar.

The Benefits of Unconventional Hires:

1. Unconventional Hires Are Cheaper

When you go head-hunting for a proven all-star, you’re going to pay a premium.  When you take a chance on someone who may be young or inexperienced, but who possesses a wealth of unconventional skills, you may get an incredible employee at a bargain price.

2. Unconventional Hires Are Loyal

If you have to steal a producer from another company, you’re hiring someone who has proven they’ll move on to greener pastures.  When you take a chance on an unconventional hire, you demonstrate your trust, and you are very likely to earn their loyalty.  When you give an opportunity that no one else is offering, your employees will stick around to meet the challenge.

3. Unconventional Hires Provide New Solutions

Employees with identical educations and experience are likely to approach problem-solving in a fairly uniform manner.  If you want someone with a completely unique perspective, you should look for employees with experience and skill-sets outside the norm.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book “David and Goliath”, he talks about how perceived disadvantages like dyslexia can actually be beneficial and how perceived advantages like wealth can actually cripple development.  Consider that a community-college entrepreneur might provide skills and ideas not found in your average ivy-leaguer.

How To Hire Unconventional Superstars:

1. Consider Candidates For All Positions

When you hold interviews, consider your candidates for all positions at your company.  When someone interviews well, when they obviously have a strong personality, passion, intelligence, and drive, see if you can find a place for them.  They may not be suitable for the position they requested, but you should never let an outstanding interviewee slip through your fingers.

2. Differentiate Personality Positions From Experience Positions

As mentioned above, most hiring managers consider relevant experience first and foremost in hiring, but that’s not actually important for all jobs.  Looking for a neurosurgeon?  You probably want someone with experience.  But if you’re hiring for a less technical position like sales, then interpersonal skills, ambition, perseverance, and loquaciousness might be more important than years on the job.

3. Know Which Characteristics Are Integral To Each Position

Examine your most successful employees to formulate a template for your new hires.  Only you can determine which characteristics are most important for each job at your company.  Bethany Perkins, HR Director at Software Advice, is a huge proponent of finding “diamonds in the rough”.  Her personal criteria is as follows:

I look for a history of hard work and achievement. I hunt for candidates who understand that success is the result of hard work. I also look for candidates that demonstrate a passion in some area of their life, whether personal or professional.  We think that the ambition and drive required to pursue your life’s passions are qualities that transfer nicely to our workplace. Another key characteristic I look for is if the candidate takes pride in their work. We don’t care whether they were a bartender or barista, what piques our interest is if they see the value of a job well done. We also keep an eye out for candidates that are optimistic, have a positive attitude and are looking for a job that is both challenging and rewarding…I’ve trained myself to look beyond the resume and read between the lines. I focus less on what company they’re currently working for and instead look for signs of achievement. When we are looking to hire a diamond in the rough, we care more about the skills that can’t be taught — we can always teach the role-specific skills.

4. Hunt In New Locations

If your traditional job postings are pulling up the same type of candidates over and over, look somewhere new.  Explain the type of characteristics you are looking for to your employees and request referrals (with bonuses for successful hires).  Give your card to anyone you meet who is outstandingly impressive, and encourage them to apply to your company.  Post your job listings in new forums and in local social centers.

Not all unconventional hires will pan out, but those who prove to be exceptional may become your most productive and valued employees.  If you want exceptional results, then you have to take a chance on a new kind of hire.

Countless studies have shown statistical evidence that employee recognition programs and employee incentives will benefit your company.  The money you spend on recognition and encouragement is an investment that will pay dividends over and over in the performance of your employees and the profitability of your company.  In today’s post, I want to summarize the findings from an extensive study by the Forum For People Performance, Management, and Measurement, the Incentive Research Foundation, and the Human Capital Institute.

The Value And ROI In Employee Recognition:

Why Do Employees Need Recognition?

Humans have an intrinsic need for incentives, recognition, and positive feedback.  Without regular incentives, our motivation tends to wane.  Without recognition, we doubt our value to a company and our relationship with upper management.  Without positive feedback, it’s easy to become discouraged and focus on the negative aspects of work-life.

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During my years in the employee engagement industry, I've seen a lot of strategies for employee motivation, some good and some horrendous.  So today I've compiled a list of some of the most effective and some of the most damaging techniques I've seen applied to employees.

The Best And Worst Techniques For Employee Motivation:

Best Strategies:

1. Give Your Employees Decision-Making Power

For many years, the retailing giant Nordstrom had an extremely simple guidebook for their employees.  It encompassed a single 5X8 card, and this is what it said:

Welcome to Nordstrom

We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

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“Employee engagement” has become a buzzword in the modern business world, but what does it actually mean?  What is an engaged employee, and why is it important for your business?

What Is Employee Engagement?

And “engaged employee” is someone who is involved in and enthusiastic about their work.  They are committed to their company and their job.

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On average, only 6.9% of new hires come from referrals.  This is unfortunate, because referrals are the most valuable type of employee.  Employees hired through referral tend to perform at a higher level, stay longer with your company, fit better in your corporate culture, and require termination much less often.  Employment experts like Dr. John Sullivan recommend that companies should strive to garner 50% of their hires from employee referrals, instead of a measly 6.9%.

The Benefits Of Hiring Referrals:

1. Performance

A 2011 CareerXRoads study showed that 46% of hires at top performing firms are referrals, vs. 28-39% of hires at average performing firms.  Dr. Sullivan says:

New hires from well-designed referral programs routinely produce the highest on-the-job performance of any recruiting source.

2. Employee Retention

According to a 2012 Jobvite study, referrals are the most likely employees to stick around at your company.  After 2 years, referrals showed 45% retention, vs. 31% of hires from career sites and 20% from job boards.

3. Fit

Hiring employees who mesh well in the corporate culture can be extremely difficult, because it's hard to garner detailed and accurate information about personality from an interview.  Your current employees are much better at determining “fit” amongst their friends and acquaintances, so their referrals tend to more accurately select for personalities who will mesh well.  Plus, referral hires will already have at least one friend on the staff to help ease the transition.

4. Low Termination Rates

Some studies on referral programs have shown that employees hired through referral have a 350% lower chance of requiring termination.  Firing and rehiring can be one of the most destructive and expensive processes at your company, so this can save you a lot of money.

5. Diversity

There is a common myth that the drawback of referral hiring is a loss of diversity.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Referrals are actually the #1 source for diversity hires, beating out even diversity career fairs in a 2011 study by CareerXRoads.

The benefits of increasing your hiring percentage via referral are obvious.  But how can you encourage your employees to aid in the hiring process?

How To Get More Hires Through Employee Referral

The answer is incentivize, incentivize, incentivize.  Employees will do what they are incentivized to do.  If they receive a generous bonus for referring friends and acquaintances, they will certainly go out of their way to do so.  This incentive can be cash, points, or prizes – if your employees genuinely want it, it will be effective.  The average incentive for a hiring referral at a major company is $2000.  That may sound like a lot, but it's barely more than the average cost of hiring through a job board ($1634), and it will save you exponentially more money in the long run.


Early this year, digital researcher John Seely Brown made headlines when he declared he would rather hire a high-level World of Warcraft player than an MBA student from Harvard.  The statement seems eccentric and even absurd, but Brown isn't the only person beginning to see the workplace benefits of video games.  Google is one of the many tech companies allowing their employees to play video games during work hours, not just as a perk or for relaxation, but as a focused, deliberate pursuit.

So is it just a silly trend, or are there genuine benefits to video games at the workplace?

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Google is considered one of the most desirable companies to work for by a huge host of young and talented individuals.  Google receives over 1.5 million applications per year for only 6,000 positions.  This means they can select from a massive pool of candidates, accepting only the top 0.04%.  Thus Google manages to cull many of the most intelligent and inventive individuals on the market, strengthening the company and creating a positive feedback cycle where they become ever more productive and ever more desirable a place to work.

Your company may not be Google, but you can steal a page from their book to make your business more attractive to applicants. The better your pool of candidates, the stronger your employees will be and the more your company will prosper.

Google hiring process boasts a second point of strength: it shuns traditional interview questions, using quirky challenges to separate the creative brains from the conventional.  This helps Google build an inventive yet homogenous culture of unified and like-minded individuals.

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Can you tell when a job applicant is being honest with you?  You probably answered yes, but the unfortunate truth is that lying during the hiring process is becoming increasingly common, and increasingly difficult to detect.  Entire websites are dedicated to helping candidates falsify details of their resumes, and a whopping 56% of resumes contain embellishments and outright lies regarding previous dates of employment, job descriptions, education, and more.

To help you avoid getting scammed by job seekers, here are a few of the most egregious hiring horror stories, and a few lessons we can learn from them:

Hiring Horror Stories:

1. Candidate Listed Himself As CEO Of The Company He Was Applying For

I was screening applicants for a mid-level position at a Fortune 500 company.  As part of the process, we checked the candidates' profiles on a variety of social media and networking sites.  One applicant had himself listed as CEO of our company on Facebook.  Judging from his Facebook page, I wouldn't have hired him for the mailroom.

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There's a lot of common knowledge about what constitutes “good management” and “employee motivation“.  But common knowledge is simply that: common.  It's not necessarily accurate or effective.  In fact, there are a number of myths about employee engagement that I'd like to dispel.

3 Myths About Employee Engagement and Motivation:

1. You Should Always Put On A Good Face For Your Employees

Positivity is important, but you know what else is important?  Truth.  There's a reason why “The Matrix” was such a popular movie, and it wasn't only the pleather bondage gear and Keanu Reeve's deadpan delivery.  “The Matrix” offered a basic dilemma: would you rather live in a carefully constructed fantasy, or the terrifying real world?  Would you rather have happiness or the truth?  Keanu took the red pill, and most of your employees want the same.  They want to know what's going on.

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