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4 Ways to Sustainably Boost Productivity and Performance Without the Spend Experiential learning opportunities for your staff ignites performance and motivation.

By Dr. Malachi Thompson III Edited by Dan Bova

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Global professional services firms such as Price Waterhouse Coopers and Deloitte grew their competitive edge in attracting and maintaining top talent by extending employees' parental leave allowances. Then Australian global accounting firm Ernst and Young (EY) upped the stakes even higher. On top of the Australian government's parental leave program, EY offer fourteen weeks paid leave for employees with less than five years' tenure and eighteen weeks for those with more than five year's tenure. And that's not all. It gets even better.

From the first of April this year, EY now also offer between six to twelve weeks of additional leave to travel, work part-time or just have time off. Employees can:

  • Take six to twelve weeks off in either one or two separate self-funded blocks;

  • Work full-time during their children's school terms but opt to either have school holidays off or work part-time for up to three months.

EY didn't just recognize that, by 2020, 80 percent of their employees will be millennials. People Partner of EY Oceania, Kate Hillman, also recognized a similarly large contingent of employees are also parents and that the organization's leave structure needed to better care for their people as well as remain a competitive employer.

Managing a team is probably the most considerable investment in operating any business. Naturally, sustaining their productivity and performance quality is paramount. While your capacity to offer incentives like that of EY might be as far removed from your realm as winning the lottery, you and your people can still experience the same benefits.

1. Make mental health skills training and personal development a mandate.

With the World Health Organization identifying the number of those suffering from depression and anxiety is swiftly on the rise, you and your people could not benefit more from undertaking mental skills training. However, it needs to go beyond token attendance to workshops here and there.

Short, sharp bursts of regular education will be more effective in the long run. Facilitate your people developing a proactive (rather than remedial) attitude to managing their mental health. Consider teeing them up with performance psychology and coaching sessions. Provide them access a suite of individuals they can choose to work with and invite them to set measurable goals to improve their mental health and skills.

Related: These 8 Companies Know the Impact of Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

2. Invest in programs which support leading a more balanced lifestyle.

If you gifted your people with private health coverage (or a supplement toward) or an eight-week program to learn a sport, craft or another skill such as a language, which would deliver the most experiential benefit? Which is most likely to immediately contribute to your employee's well-being and performance?

Think about the win-win's of gifting an employee who's always wanted to undertake art classes an eight-week program of painting tuition. They feel more valued because it's something they want. They will likely make time for it outside of work (or if classes start at 5 pm, you could allow them to leave those days slightly early).

They're not going to take it for granted because it's for a limited time period. Their mental and emotional health is re-fueled by engaging in a relaxing, creative activity that they enjoy. The win for you is having that increased sense of satisfaction flow back into your business and the work environment.

Conversely, what is the direct experiential benefit of offering private health insurance? Peace of mind?

Related: Work-Life Balance Is Simple. To Succeed at Work, Get a Life.

3. Volunteer work boosts both employees' mental health and business productivity.

Research shows it is actually the helper who experiences greater personal and emotional satisfaction from being in servitude in comparison with that experienced by that whom they are helping. The brain's amygdala -- designed to be activated by stressful triggers -- experiences reduced activity. In addition, there is increased activity in reward-processing areas of the brain -- the ventral striata -- and higher activation in the septal region which is related to caregiving.

Based on these findings, mental health professionals often recommend engagement in volunteer work to help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, this strategy should not only be used with a remedial focus.

Volunteering is a strong component of being in the workforce, particularly in Australia. Similar to Ernst and Young's efforts, one of the five major national banks Suncorp fosters voluntary altruism through their employee-driven Brighter Futures program. Individuals substitute a paid work day volunteering with one of their sixteen charity partners that have been chosen by the employees themselves. With more studies reporting increases in productivity and employee engagement where corporate volunteering programs are a workplace feature, there are too many win-win opportunities for everyone involved to ignore.

Related: 5 Ways Volunteering Helps You Do Well While Doing Good

4. Consider incentive travel to enhance learning and enrich the business' internal resources.

The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) found in their 2010 study that employees are motivated by the potential to earn incentive travel awards, placing a high value on opportunities to network with other high performers and share best practice initiatives. Basic teaching principles also tell us we learn more effectively when the experience is positively memorable. A wiser way to achieve a better return on investment when training your people could be by exposing them to more culturally diverse learning experiences. They're far more likely to integrate the lessons.

Nespresso Australia recently ran a performance-based competition which granted their top performers a week's trip to Indonesian coffee bean plantation. However, it wasn't a holiday as such. Employees worked alongside locals in the plantations harvesting, participating in quality assurance processes and networking with other countries' successful contending employees. As a result, employees return to share these unique stories of a lifetime with their colleagues and customers.

Monetary incentives and even wellness programs are falling short of delivering sustainable performance and employee motivation. Motivation theory aside, you only need to think of your own most positive memories to realize tangible trophies hold temporary emotional and psychological gratification. The incredible, outlandish and funny stories, experiences and relationships hold the staying power.

Spend less but spend it wisely on creating incredible experiential learning opportunities for your staff. There will come a tipping point that ignites performance and motivation to levels no amount of technical and skills training can deliver.

Dr. Malachi Thompson III

High-Performance Consultant

Dr. Malachi Thompson spent more than a decade leading and developing high-performing military teams. He is the founder of Champion Leaders. He teaches proven strategies to help entrepreneurs and leaders activate their genius, lead in their field and impact the world.

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