Productivity Paranoia: What it is & How to Tackle it

    Productivity Paranoia: What it is & How to Tackle it

    What is Productivity Paranoia?

    The term ‘productivity paranoia’ refers to the disconnect between employer and employee perceptions of productivity. If you’ve ever felt concerned about making your boss aware of how many hours you’re clocking per week, about proving the time it takes to complete your tasks is warranted, or generally that despite working remotely you’re doing your job as you should be - you’ve likely experienced productivity paranoia. 

    As Ayelet Fishbach, professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, has observed, ‘Time is the most common metric of productivity because it’s simple to measure - it’s easier to track a worker’s time in the office than their quality of ideas.’ 

    With the popularity of remote and hybrid work skyrocketing in recent years, modern workers are experiencing a general sense of unease about accountability. Being overly concerned about the time we spend actually working from home, how we’re optimising the time recuperated from long commutes, the pressure to justify the way we’re managing our own time for superiors who we might not regularly interact with in-person - each of these concerns stoke the fire of productivity paranoia. 

    Research in 2022 found that only 12 percent of leaders have full confidence that their team is productive, despite 87 percent of employees reporting that they are productive at work. Shockingly, nearly 48 percent actually described themselves as burned out.

    Microsoft data shows that the number of meetings per week has increased by 153 percent since the pandemic, with 42 percent of employees saying that they multitask on their work during meetings. Despite this, a recent survey found that 85 percent of leaders said that hybrid work has made it more difficult to be confident in their employees' productivity. 

    It’s bleakly ironic that at a time where people are generally understood to be working harder than ever before, employees are feeling the added burden of proving their productivity to their employers. It’s an incongruity which harms both employer and employee, and can lead to a build-up of resentment and a lack of trust, which in turn can diminish the mental wellbeing of both parties involved. 

    Mental Health Ramifications of Productivity Paranoia 

    There are some obvious and uncomfortable ramifications of productivity paranoia. Yet humans aren’t programmed to operate at 100 percent, every minute of the working day - and expecting this of ourselves and others will only result in frustration and disappointment.

    Much has been made of the post-pandemic shift to remote work, but the implications of working weeks divided between offices, work spaces, and home are far-reaching. Where once showing up to the office at 9 and clocking off at 5 was proof of productivity in and of itself, the parameters for measuring progress have changed significantly, and so too have the employees’ expectations of their employers. 

    How Employers Can Help You Find a Balance

    Acknowledging there’s a problem with productivity paranoia doesn’t actually do much to counter productivity paranoia. In a Microsoft study, 81 percent of employees said it’s important that managers help them prioritise their workload, but less than 31 percent said they’ve received clear guidance. 

    There are some simple things employers can do to help you find a better balance, and put a stop to any anxiety you might be feeling about quantifying your output. 

    • Encouraging a culture of openness so employees feel they can speak up if they’re under too much pressure,

    • training managers to spot stress,

    • offering flexible and remote working,

    • encouraging breaks, whether that’s during the day or through an annual leave allowance,

    • regularly reviewing workloads,

    • increasing support for parents and carers,

    • allowing attendance of counselling and any other support services during working hours, 

    • encouraging stress-relieving activities, such as lunchtime exercise.

    Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft observed that ‘Thriving employees are what will give organisations a competitive advantage in today’s dynamic economic environment.’ When we work to combat productivity paranoia we don’t just improve the wellbeing of workers, we actually boost the company itself.  

    Setting Boundaries to Combat Toxic Productivity Paranoia 

    Setting boundaries to protect your mental wellbeing should not be exclusive to your private life. Part of maintaining a healthy relationship with your career and colleagues is `about making sure you’re managing your workload, communicating clearly with your manager about what is and isn’t feasible, delegating where necessary, and making sure to put your phone down, or laptop away, when the working day is over. 

    Studies have found that poor work-life balance leads to poor health later in life, with longer working hours associated with a higher risk of anxiety and depression. Regularly sacrificing a lunch break, social plans or exercise for work will only ever result in burnout - and simply put, it’s not worth it! Conversely, allowing employees the freedom to organise their own schedules, and permitting flexible working hours, has been shown to have positive effects on health and well-being.

    How Remote Work Can Benefit Productivity

    We know that our customers lead busy lives - in and out of professional contexts. That’s why we’ve created hubs for remote and hybrid workers which enable them to balance work commitments with their day to day lives. 

    Whether that’s about finding time for a gym session between meetings, grabbing a bite to eat, or simply breaking up the week with a change of environment - Bruntwood spaces boast vibrant, collaborative atmospheres which not only inspire productivity, but also a sense of togetherness remote employees might otherwise miss out on. 

    Modern offices like ours provide a retreat from the kind of corporate, pressurised environments in which productivity paranoia might be fostered. Whether you prefer a coworking membership, or to pay as you go, there’s an option for everyone to work flexibly. Say no to productivity paranoia, and embrace a healthier work/life balance with Bruntwood.

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