Introduction to Work Friction: What It Is and How You Can Prevent It

Work Friction Image

You’ve probably spent countless hours and tons of money to remove friction from the customer experience. But, are you also investing in the people who drive that customer experience from start to finish?

Friction doesn’t just exist on the customer side – it also plays a role in how effective your team can be. If your environment makes it difficult for employees to do their jobs, it can lead to work friction. As a result, you may have a harder time meeting deadlines because tasks take longer, poor customer service because agents are limited by procedures, and high turnover rates as employees become frustrated with work friction complicating their daily tasks.

Here’s everything you need to know about work friction and how reducing it can help improve your company’s efficiency.

What Even Is Work Friction?

Work friction is the energy it takes to overcome any obstacle that gets in the way of an employee doing their job, accomplishing a goal, or having their needs met. It can come from anything that unnecessarily complicates tasks, frustrates employees, or makes it more difficult to provide a great customer experience.

Examples of work friction include:

  • Subject matter experts who are hard to reach, making it take longer to resolve customer issues and lowering resolution times that hurt customer satisfaction
  • Excessive paperwork and filing requirements for routine tasks that slow down productivity by taking working time away from employees
  • Unclear systems or policy for pursuing internal promotions or department changes that can lead to frustration and turnover
  • Limited support and training for new hires that extends the amount of time it takes them to become comfortable, limiting their productivity

Essentially, anything that makes it harder, more complex, or less efficient to complete a task is work friction.

What Causes Work Friction?

Work friction can come from anywhere, including people, tools, procedure, and policy. However, they generally begin with a system that was put in place to help employees consistently do their jobs correctly.

According to Gartner Research, 50% of teams attribute work friction to being overwhelmed, which was likely caused by the rigid and inefficient processes that 48% of employees blamed for work friction.

The report revealed that when employees are limited in how they can problem-solve and perform their jobs, it’s harder to keep up with workloads. As they become overwhelmed, the level of work friction increases, leading to further inefficiency.

Some specific causes of work friction include:

  • Strict procedures that limit problem-solving ability for customer service agents
  • Inefficient communication practices that extend resolution times
  • Out-of-date tools and resources that lengthen response times
  • Inefficient procedures for cross-departmental coordination when resolving complex problems
  • Lack of clear project timelines that complicate task prioritization
  • Unclear onboarding assistance and guidance for new hires

Work friction can also be caused by angry or emotional customers who create stressful situations for customer-facing employees. Without proper de-escalation procedures, these conversations may lead to poor morale and an increased turnover rate.

How Work Friction Creates Inefficiencies

Work friction hurts both employees and organizations by interrupting productivity and worsening employee morale.

Work friction prevents employees from being as efficient as they’re capable of, leading to as many as two wasted hours per day. They may spend more time than necessary on daily tasks, be limited in the results they can produce for prospects and customers, and feel demotivated by the lack of impact they’re able to make.

When an employee has to work harder and spend more time doing their job, it increases the likelihood of burnout.

Burned-out employees are less likely to dedicate their full effort into their job, which reduces their efficiency. They may also be less tolerant when it comes to dealing with unruly customers, less likely to listen to management, and break procedures that they feel are holding them back. They may also stop prioritizing a great customer experience, lowering customer satisfaction and hurting your business’s reputation.

Burnout can also lead to a lower job satisfaction rating as employees struggle to see their individual impact. In fact, 95% of employees say work friction makes them feel bad about their job.

As a result, the work friction’s negative impact on employee morale can lead to higher turnover rates that increase training costs and put a staffing burden on your organization.

Why You’ll Want to Correct Work Friction Before It’s An Issue

Every workplace experiences some level of work friction, but that doesn’t mean it has to become a problem for your organization.

A friction-free environment enables better customer experiences, reduces turnover to minimize training costs, and improves your bottom line by building an employee-friendly culture that encourages productivity and well-being.

Implementing work friction solutions before problems arise allows you to create a more open dialogue that lets employees have more influence on their daily work experiences. They’ll also have the tools, training, knowledge, and access they need to thrive, which helps improve your business as a whole. 

With employee input, you can build a more collaborative working environment that helps everyone stay happier and more efficient.

Work Friction vs Organizational Friction: What’s The Difference?

You might have heard of organization friction before, but how does it compare to work friction?

Organization friction refers to the obstacles that get in the way of your organization’s goals. These limiting factors can include:

  • Resistance to change
  • Bureaucratic procedure that makes decisions take longer to finalize
  • Improper infrastructure that makes it difficult for your organization to perform as expected. 

Meanwhile, work friction comes from the processes, procedures, and decisions that interfere with your employees’ goals. 

Organization friction also affects the entire company on a larger scale and defines its culture, strategies, and performance. It comes from systematic and procedural decisions that push the organization in a certain direction – for better or worse.

These high-stakes decisions made on an organizational level mold the policies and procedures that contribute to work friction. So, organization friction can often lead to work friction. 

However, the impact of work friction – reduced performance, high turnover rates, and poor resource management – can be felt cumulatively on an organizational level.

How to Spot Work Friction

Work friction is common, but it’s not always easy to notice.

It’s hard for higher-level executives and managers to keep tabs on how every employee feels about their job. You usually can’t see the day-to-day impact that procedures and processes have because you’re not working with the same systems and tools your employees do regularly.

Instead, you can turn to data for the insight you need. 

There are a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) that help you see when a certain department or process is achieving worse results, taking longer, or becoming more expensive than it should.

Indicators of work friction include:

  • Low customer satisfaction
  • Long response times
  • Poor feedback from customers
  • Missed deadlines
  • High absenteeism
  • High attrition rates

When you see something that sticks out, it’s a good idea to look further into it as a potential area for improvement.

If you want to identify and correct causes of work friction, you’ll need to know what indicators to look for.

What Is Work Friction Intelligence?

Work friction intelligence involves identifying, quantifying, and prioritizing the issues that need to be resolved to reduce work friction from your organization.

After identifying the areas where work friction is impacting your business, you can begin to address them. And while it may sometimes seem like a huge undertaking, with the right insights, you can find ways to make quick and easy but impactful changes.

Fortunately, when you’re able to collect and quantify data with a tool like FOUNT, you’ll gain actionable insight into which friction points are a priority through simple, easy-to-read reports. These reports can often identify high-value changes that you can make quickly without overhauling entire systems or procedures.

Instead of countless meetings and deliberation, you can leverage the asset with the most insight – your employees – to prioritize your friction-removing efforts.

Incremental Steps to Take to Smooth Out Work Friction

Removing work friction isn’t usually an overnight effort. It takes insight, listening, problem-solving, and measuring to get right– and when you do, it’ll make a world of difference for your employees and organization.

Here’s how you can resolve workplace friction.

Identify Areas Where Friction Occurs

The first step to solving any problem is identifying it.

As we mentioned earlier, you can look for a history of performance issues as indicators that work friction is impacting employees’ ability to do their jobs.

If customers are unsatisfied, projects are taking longer to complete, or your turnover rates are higher in certain departments, you should look into it further as a potential friction point.

Alternatively, you can ask your employees. Accepting anonymous complaints, requests, or other feedback is an easy way to identify what systems and procedures you need to look into further.

Collect and Analyze Employee Feedback

Once you’ve identified areas of friction, you need to find out how those limitations are holding back your team. And who better to ask than those affected by them?

The easiest way to collect feedback is short, targeted surveys that allow you to quickly gather specific information about the process, including what’s working, what you can improve, and what issues should take priority.

Work friction software makes this even easier by allowing you to sort responses by tenure, salary, gender, department, and more. These filters allow you to narrow down who’s most affected by the friction and pinpoint where changes are most likely to impact friction.

Create and Implement Solutions

Your surveys have probably given you a lot of insight into the inner workings of your organization’s day-to-day. Now, you need to take action.

Depending on the type of friction and where it’s occurring, coming up with solutions will involve different department leads.

For example, systems issues may require you to work with your IT lead while difficulty pursuing new roles within the company is more likely to involve your HR team.

You may also choose to have managers consult with employees or deliver surveys to those who are most affected by the issues to collect ideas to consider.

Measuring The Impact Of Your Efforts

After you’ve implemented your improvements, give it some time – usually three to six months – to have an impact. Then, it’s time to remeasure employee sentiment.

To collect additional feedback, you should conduct another, more targeted survey to different employees who are experiencing the same moments. This way, you can get an accurate idea of how the changes are impacting the department or team as a whole.

Afterwards, repeat the survey to see how answers have changed. You should collect feedback from the same people on the same topics and compare the new results to the initial data.

If feedback has improved, you can consider pushing further in that direction or leaving your solution in place for longer to collect more data.

If feedback is the same or has gotten worse, consider whether your changes come with growing pains that will improve over time. If not, consider another direction to address the friction points.

Fighting Work Friction Before It Becomes a Problem

Minimizing the impact of work friction is a critical step in creating a better, more efficient, and happier workplace.

Work friction is caused by inefficiencies throughout the daily operations of your organization. From out-of-date tools to unclear procedures for resolving complex problems, the systems and guidance that you provide your workforce impact their efficiency, morale, and quality of service.

The best way to identify friction points that need improvement is to ask the people who use it every day: your employees. 

You can use targeted surveys to collect crucial data like where the friction comes from, who’s impacted the most, and what limitations it’s imposing on your employees.

Once you’ve collected feedback and implemented solutions, you should conduct another survey to evaluate whether your solutions are working.

Fortunately, FOUNT makes it easy to identify, quantify, prioritize, and remove friction points from your workflows and operations. 

You can use our friction-fighting software to collect and analyze information about friction in your organization. You’ll gain valuable insight into what’s holding your employees back and how much of an impact it has on their productivity and job satisfaction, allowing you to pinpoint friction before it becomes an issue.

Get Started With A Free Demo Today

Employees are one of your most valuable assets; let them guide you towards a happier, healthier, and more efficient workplace and organization as a whole with the insights provided by FOUNT.

Book a demo today to see how you can remove work friction from your organization and employees’ daily workflow.