Since COVID-19 and the start of the work-from-home era, managers and bosses have been coming up with new ways to keep track of how productive their employees are. These ways include employee monitoring software and micromanagement.
“Productivity paranoia” is a new problem that has come up because of remote work. The term was made up by Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft. He used it in a recent report on trends in the workplace. The report found that 87% of employees said they were productive at work, but only 12% of senior leaders are sure that their team is being productive.
Employers are becoming more worried about employee motivation and productivity, while employees are pushing for more freedom and flexibility. How can HR help managers and employees deal with this new trend?
What is paranoia about work?
“Productivity paranoia” is a fairly new term, but the idea has been around since the beginning of remote work. “Leaders think their employees are not productive, but employees think they are productive and, in many cases, feel burned out,” Nadella said.
Since the start of the pandemic, employers and employees have not been on the same page about productivity and working from home. Studies show that employees feel as productive or more productive when they work from home, but managers still think that employees aren’t as productive when they’re not in the office.
To add fuel to the fire, productivity is going down no matter where people work. “According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity rates have dropped to their lowest level since 1947,” says Emily MacIntyre, Director of People Operations at Catalant Technologies. “Employers across the country are worried – and more vocal – about workers getting less work done.”
“This, along with economic uncertainty, a rise in employee and manager burnout, and a new push by companies to get people back to work, has led to a phenomenon called “productivity paranoia.”
Trust is key
Overall, productivity paranoia makes both employees and managers lose trust in each other.
“Teams are naturally more productive when there is a lot of trust between the boss and the workers. Monique McDonough, Chief Operating Officer at WorkTango, says, “Trust is built when employers assume good intentions and trust that their employees are doing what they need to do, instead of assuming they are slacking off or taking advantage of a hybrid or remote arrangement.”
Employers don’t believe that workers will do their jobs. On the other hand, employees worry that their bosses really think they’re doing a good job.
“Employers need to believe that their employees can do the jobs they’ve been given based on the skills that made them hire the person in the first place,” says MacIntyre. “Without this level of freedom, there is a fundamental culture problem based on mistrust and micromanagement, which turns off top talent and leads to turnover.”
When trust breaks down, employees may stop caring about their jobs, which can hurt productivity and create a cycle of paranoia and mistrust.
How managers can deal with the fear of losing productivity
When managers have productivity paranoia, they may be more likely to make decisions that hurt their employees and the company in the long run. Not only that, but managers who push their workers to be more productive are probably feeling the same pressure from higher-ups.
“Productivity paranoia can quickly destroy a company, leaving behind a place of work where people aren’t interested and are unhappy. “It’s the job of managers and executive leadership to find effective and productive ways to communicate the health of the business and areas that need attention without getting caught up in productivity paranoia,” says McDonough.
Here are three ways managers can stop employees from being too worried about their work and build a healthy, trusting relationship with their employees.
Pay attention to the health of your employees. “Employees are more likely to let their managers know when they need help if they feel overwhelmed at work or in their personal lives and believe that their managers care about their well-being,” says McDonough.
Pay attention to what comes out instead of what goes in. MacIntyre says that the focus should be less on the process and more on the results. “Giving employees the freedom and autonomy to decide how they spend their day can lead to much better results, engagement, and long-term loyalty.”
Don’t think that one size fits all. “Instead of focusing on physical presence in an office, clicks, or other arbitrary measures, managers should focus on evaluating the results the team produced,” says McDonough. “It’s easier to tell if employees are spending their time on the right things if you look at their output and how that affects the business.”
Overall, getting rid of productivity paranoia is about finding a balance between independence and management. “If leadership does a good job of communicating goals, setting expectations, and working with employees to maximize their strengths and deliver results, the conversation about productivity paranoia becomes irrelevant, and the well-being of both employers and employees is protected,” says McDonough.