Have you heard about productivity paranoia lately? Are you starting to feel paranoid about productivity paranoia? You’re not alone. In fact, here at Wrike, we’ve been talking about how managers can get a handle on what employees are working on — for years. Increasing visibility and transparency for managers and employees alike — that’s our jam.
Productivity paranoia is the idea that managers and employers aren’t confident in the productivity of their employees, especially if they work remotely part or all of the time. If you don’t report to the office and log a certain number of hours in meetings or at your computer, are you really hitting maximum productivity?
The concept of productivity paranoia has hit the internet lately, and here’s why. Late last year, Microsoft released results from a wide-ranging survey it completed, where it asked 20,000 customers in 11 countries about their opinions on work trends, productivity, and hybrid work. Microsoft also went so far as to analyze “trillions of Microsoft 365 productivity signals, along with LinkedIn labor trends and Glint People Science findings.” It gathered a ton of data and released a survey report urging business leaders to end productivity paranoia.
While Microsoft’s report stated that 87% of employees report they are productive at work, a staggering “85% of leaders say that the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive.” That disconnect can be crippling for companies and can lead to wide-ranging detrimental effects.
If you’ve found productivity paranoia creeping into your leadership style lately, we’ve got good news for you: an effective work management platform can alleviate that fear and bring trust back into your organization.
But before we get into the benefits of work management for productivity, let’s look deeper at the causes and effects of productivity paranoia.
The causes of productivity paranoia
Productivity paranoia has definitely garnered more attention because of the rise of hybrid and remote work, but it’s an area we’ve been looking at since before the COVID-19 crisis began. When remote work was forced upon millions of workers instantly, we knew transparency was going to be the name of the game. Managers and employers weren’t used to being a step removed from their employees and, unfortunately, many employers simply didn’t trust their employees to get the job done on their own.
But productivity paranoia can be caused by other management issues as well. From unclear expectations to overloaded employees, productivity paranoia can creep in through these main routes:
Unclear or unattainable expectations
When managers or employers have unclear or unattainable expectations of their employees, it becomes increasingly difficult, or indeed impossible, for employers to see the results they’re looking for. If employees aren’t crystal-clear on what their outcomes should be, employers will begin searching for productivity results that just won’t materialize.
Low trust between employers and employees
Think about it: when you know or suspect someone doesn’t trust you to get a job done, you don’t feel better about the work you’re putting in. You may perform faster or try harder but, in the long run, you simply wish your skills and expertise could be trusted to deliver. The same can be said for the employee-employer relationship. Trust is critical for long-term productivity.
Sub-optimal workloads or workflows
If your team always gets held up at a certain stage of your workflow, but your manager never adjusts the process to eliminate that roadblock, productivity is going to suffer and employers are going to become frustrated. Likewise, when workloads are too packed to allow employees breathing room to gear up for another project, this can cause a drop in productivity as well as project quality.
The negative outcomes of productivity paranoia
Look, nothing good comes from productivity paranoia, especially not higher productivity. In fact, we know from our own survey into the Dark Matter of Work that poor employee engagement is a major factor that causes wasted time and lost productivity.
Here are just a few negative effects productivity paranoia has on companies:
We’ve made our thoughts on employee surveillance clear in this blog post already, but we’ll recap in case you missed it. You don’t need employee surveillance software, you need work management software. Employee surveillance breaks down trust and kills employee morale. That’s exactly what you don’t want when you’re hoping to increase productivity.
Productivity paranoia can lead to higher productivity — to a point. But when employees are working at maximum capacity at all times because they’re penalized if they don’t produce, employee burnout is just around the corner.
Lower employee engagement
Productivity paranoia is one of the reasons employers are forcing people back into offices in person, contrary to the hybrid or flexible working options many employees say they want. When employees feel they’re being pushed back into the office because they aren’t trusted to do their best work without someone over their shoulder, that can lead to lower employee engagement.
None of these outcomes are positive, and none of these outcomes will lead to increased productivity in the long run. Employers may see higher rates of productivity for a period of time, but they run the risk of employee turnover that will cost them greatly.
What can prevent or solve productivity paranoia?
Well, managers and employers need to make sure they’re setting clear expectations with their teams. That’s paramount to ensuring that employees are set up for success. Create achievable productivity goals, make sure they’re visible to employees and understood, and ensure they can be measured over time — preferably in a way that allows both employers and employees to get an understanding of what roadblocks might be causing lower productivity.
While it might seem counterintuitive, productivity increases when workers have time to recharge. No one can go full-tilt 100% of the time. That just leads to burnout, which, in turn, leads to lower productivity in the long term.
That’s where accurate resource allocation and bespoke workflows come in. When managers are able to easily visualize workloads and adjust them based on employee capacity, employees can enjoy periods of recharging that will fuel future productivity.
Finally — and, we believe, most importantly — work management software can prevent productivity paranoia. No, seriously. We use Wrike for our own workflows every day, so we’ve experienced the results for ourselves. When managers can visualize project progress at a glance and manage workloads with a few clicks, everyone feels more confident in the processes we’ve set up, which deliver maximum results.
Productivity paranoia isn’t unfounded; in 2022 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that productivity was at its lowest point since WWII, likely due to the rampant proliferation of apps that sprouted during the pandemic. Those apps that were designed to enable remote work have started costing workers valuable time, and we know that a single source of truth can help bring apps into one platform.
Work management software brings transparency and visibility, which are absolutely critical in combating productivity paranoia. When managers can visualize a team’s or employee’s progress, they don’t need to hound them for status updates. Or when an employer can dig into the analytics of a campaign and instantly determine what’s working and what’s not, they don’t need to demand that employees sit at their desks from nine to five every day.
We believe work management allows business leaders to focus on results without micromanaging or belittling their employees. They can see the big picture easily and, when necessary, they can dig into the finer details if a problem arises. In the long run, work management brings teams together in a collaborative way that builds trust and empowers employees to do their best work. We’d call that a win-win.