Blog Article

No coffee, no work?

Posted by Phil Pringle

Phil Pringle

Fact #1 – Coffee is the most popular drink worldwide with over 400 billion cups consumed each year.
Fact #2 – About half of all American adults have a cup of coffee to start their day.
Fact #3 – The coffee machines have recently become ‘free’ for all staff in our office.

The last stat is quite a revelation. I can now get a free productivity ‘hit’ anytime I want – no more self-motivating tactics to re-read that email one last time before sending. No more flicking between the same 3 websites because my concentration levels have hit a virtual wall. And no more working late because I haven’t struck off that last task on my ‘to do’ list. The future’s positive, the future smells like coffee.

In fact, this news is very timely as we’ve recently been putting a spotlight on ‘productivity’. After undertaking heaps of research and analysing millions of employee views to understand the employee engagement challenges of tomorrow, we’ve identified that productivity is increasingly at risk due to conflicting workplace priorities – innovation, collaboration, customisation… to name but a few!

In simple terms, the need to deal with emerging trends is straining the strategic concentration of businesses and as such, they’re taking their eye off the productivity ball. The potential result is lower levels of organisational output and weaker services.

From an employee perspective, the productivity challenge is also significant with real consequences. The pressure to juggle ‘getting the day job done’ whilst coming up with new and innovative ways of doing things, collaborating with colleagues in other countries, grappling with new technologies and other such demands means that:

  • Extra pressure is exerted on the working day.
  • It’s hard to get anything done, which in turn can be highly frustrating and stressful.
  • Issues such as burnout and mental exhaustion intensify.

In thinking about how to achieve productivity, a good place to start is positive psychology and the concept of ‘flow’ – it’s a mental state in which a person engages in an activity and is fully immersed in it.

For me it’s when I’m performing at my highest level, I’m totally absorbed in what I’m doing, my physical surroundings fade away and I lose all awareness of time. It’s a good feeling that clearly results in lots of output (I get stuff done).


To achieve a state of flow you need a positive match between a person’s strength and the task they are doing. You also need to remove any obstacles that can cause frustrations. At Hay Group we capture this concept into a hard measure within our employee surveys – ‘employee enablement’, and we use it to assess organisational performance alongside employee engagement. Through looking at job fit and supportive work environments, we determine whether employees are able to achieve high levels of productivity on a regular basis.

In focussing on employee enablement we place significant emphasis on the employer and what they can do to ensure productivity. However I also think there is an important piece of the puzzle that is worth considering – and that’s putting an onus on the employee themselves to push their productivity agenda.

This makes sense to me, as the biggest factor in being productive is us, as employees. If we can engage with this topic and become more self-aware and familiar with what we are good at and what we enjoy doing, we’re more likely to reach a state of flow. For the tasks we find frustrating and difficult, we have opportunities to work with their colleagues and managers to get support and overcome sticky experiences – i.e. become more collaborative.

And the benefit isn’t just for the business, it’s for all of us. It means when my wife asks me ‘have you had a good day at work?’ I can say ‘yes’ because I feel like I’ve achieved something. It should also mean I’m not late home from work too!

The challenge for managers is encouraging employees to take more responsibility for their own productivity. 1-2-1’s are a perfect opportunity to look inside the employee’s world and ask questions to understand whether high productivity and flow are being achieved:

  • What was the last task you truly enjoyed?
  • When was the last time you received brilliant feedback?
  • When do you think you are most productive?

As we move into an era when productivity becomes at risk, the enablement focus is going to remain critical but so too is helping people become more conscious of their natural skills. Through managers asking the right questions, employees can work out where they’re likely to excel, and where they might need some support (and I don’t mean in a form of a cup of coffee).

That said, I’ll get another free coffee now so I can write another blog…!


For more advice on how to maintain productivity in a complex working world, download our new report Engaging hearts & minds: Preparing for a changing world

Do you agree with this blog? What other ideas do you have to tackle the productivity challenge? It’d be great to hear from you!

Contact me at @PPringle_HGI /



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