Productivity paranoia is an embodiment of the adage that what goes around, comes around. In the case of employers, that entails a lack of confidence.
In September 2022, Microsoft released its Work Trend Index special report. With companies adopting the post-Covid office reality of hybrid work, the report revealed three employee trends that leaders must keep in mind: understanding the importance of social connections, re-recruiting employees and ending productivity paranoia.
First off, employees value social capital. They want to establish themselves in the eyes of their managers while also bonding with their team members in person. And if employers want employees to return to the office, enabling a high-quality social connection is integral to their strategy.
Secondly, with trends like quiet quitting and job hopping, employers need to focus on re-invigorating and re-onboarding their employees. If there is nothing more to learn, employees might throw in the towel and look elsewhere.
Finally, there’s the case of productivity paranoia. If employers display a lack of trust in their employees, employees will likely reciprocate and even leave the organization.
Here, we look at what productivity paranoia is and whether it can be helpful.
What is productivity paranoia?
The Microsoft report found that up to 90% of employees believe that they are productive at work. The productivity signals across the Microsoft 365 suite echo this sentiment. Since the start of the pandemic to March 2022, the number of meetings per week has increased by 153% globally for the average Microsoft Teams user. Along with the great number of meetings, overlapping meetings also increased by about 50%, where employees were double booked. Many even resorted to declining or ignoring the numerous meeting invites. There is just too much to do.
On an average week, 42% of participants multitask during meetings. Yet, employers feel that employees are not being productive enough. That is productivity paranoia.
85% of leaders don’t trust that their remote workers are productive. They are more invested in tracking their activity than in measuring output. Twitter CEO Elon Musk unsuccessfully making employees sign a loyalty pledge and ending remote work to enable long work hours is a classic example of the same. According to the Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Ayelet Fishbach, that’s because “It’s easier to track a worker’s time in the office than their quality of ideas.”
Be it due to ongoing inflationary pressures or the inability to physically see employees work, employers are becoming increasingly paranoid about how efficient their workforce is. And that has ushered in negative consequences.
Why productivity paranoia is problematic
Since employers don’t trust that their employees are being productive, employees feel excessive pressure to prove that they are indeed working from home. They will then work overtime and do extra tasks for no additional pay or even acknowledgment, leading to burnout.
Secondly, as a result of productivity paranoia, employers end up tracking employee activity throughout the day, thus ticking them off. In many cases, that has resulted in resistance from workers.
This paranoia can also negatively impact relationships in the workplace. Research shows that many employers value employees who work from the office more than those who work remotely. This can create an unnecessary bitter divide between the two groups, while also leading to unfair decisions. For instance, an employee who does the bare minimum while in office might get the promotion that someone working diligently from home deserves.
If leaders continue to prioritize quantity over quality and face value over output value, they might get a taste of their own medicine in the form of resignations.
Can productivity paranoia be helpful?
From the looks of it, productivity paranoia is more likely to create problems than to solve them. It often leads to unproductive solutions, hampering the trust built between employers and employees. Instead, employers could consider shifting to productive paranoia—leveraging their paranoia to make the workplace more productive. This would involve taking decisions that help the workplace as a whole while considering different viewpoints.
As billionaire Bill Gates suggests, let fear “guide you”. When an employer experiences productive paranoia, they are extremely worried about the numerous bad things that could befall their organization. Hence, they take preventative measures that can actually be helpful in addressing these issues.
Productive paranoia is more constructive than productivity paranoia, as it is rooted in leaders taking action that can benefit the organization as a whole.
Employers need to focus on what matters
Ultimately, according to Microsoft Chairman and CEO, Satya Nadella, “Thriving employees are what will give organizations a competitive advantage in today’s dynamic economic environment.” To have thriving employees, organizations need to consider their needs and wants.
In fact, Nadella told the BBC that it’s time to move past productivity paranoia. After all, the report notes that this paranoia makes hybrid work “unsustainable”. Employers need to shift gears from fixating on employees’ activity to helping them prioritize work and achieve their goals.
That said, the idealism of the abovementioned scenario is not lost on us. Managers are very used to basing employee productivity on the time they spend at their desks. Given that, adapting to the new way of measuring productivity might not come easy for them. To enable the new reality of employers, the question goes beyond workplace trends: can people change?
Few studies can provide an accurate answer.
- What Is “Quiet Quitting”—The New Workplace Trend Taking Social Media by Storm
- Week-Long Mental Health Break to Cope with Employee Burnout
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