Employees are experiencing “productivity paranoia” as they continue to work in hybrid environments. This paranoia is due to feelings of general burnout from employees and employers as reported in the article “50% of workers are burned out and ‘productivity paranoia’ could be making it worse ‘People are just worn down” by Morgan Smith (https://www.cnbc.com/amp/2022/10/06/microsoft-50-percent-of-people-are-burned-out-at-work.html?__source=instagram%7Cmain). Smith explains findings based on a study by Microsoft which surveyed 20,000 people in eleven different countries between July and August of this year. This survey found that 50% of employees and 53% of managers claimed they were burnt out at work. Burnout is not a new concept, but burnout from paranoia is a new cause for concern. This paranoia stems from employers questioning the productivity of their employees.
First, employees have a lot on their plate given the emotional stress caused by a looming recession, new push to return to work, long hours, and responding to questioning behavior of leadership. In addition, employees are confused by the push to return to the office when managers are requiring tools meant for remote work, such as video conferencing. This brings employees frustration and exhaustion as they continue to re-meet updated employer demands. Consequently, research showed that 90% of workers reported that they are productive at work. Furthermore, the same survey respondents reported taking more meetings than they have ever before. Unfortunately, the confusion, lack of clarity, and lack of answers lead employees to feel as if they must “prove” their work, which only adds to increasing employee stress.
Alternatively, the paranoia from leadership is no fault of their own. Leadership is still trying to measure and gauge productivity through the pre-pandemic lens. In the same study, 85% of bosses say hybrid work has made it difficult to be confident of workers’ productivity. This creates flipped perspectives on the same issue. While the employees feel as if they are giving their work all they can, employers feel it is not enough. The lack of trust between the two parties creates animosity between each other. Unfortunately, this is unfair to the employees because for this phenomenon to change there needs to be initiative by leadership. Leadership is left to rethink old measures of productivity without certainty on how to do so.
So how can paranoia be combatted in the workplace? To put it simply, communication is a must. Employees ask leadership to set clear expectations and help them with their workloads. Unfortunately, only 31% of survey respondents believed their managers were able to communicate and set expectations appropriately. Interestingly, the General Manager of Microsoft 365, Colette Stallbaume, mentioned, “Leaders need to focus less on activity and more on impact.” Therefore, leadership shouldn’t look to visible measures of productivity, but more so set universal standards to meet no matter where an employee works. Managers can do this by setting standard objectives and key results (OKRs). With this, leadership can also supplement this act with an inclusive and continuous feedback loop. It is important that employees feel heard no matter where they are working from.
All in all, the productivity paranoia phenomenon is experienced everywhere. Regrettably, this is an issue that can only be resolved by leadership. Leadership must learn to trust their employees, otherwise, the negative impact will influence will infect the company or organization’s morale and potential growth. The post-pandemic workforce is truly asking for some humility and honest care from their employers. This is a period in which leadership could really help employees recoup and recover from the lack of work-life balance only experienced a year ago. It’s not a time to pressure employees back into the pre-pandemic era. Employees want to simply practice work-life balance and it’s time for employers to hear these new demands from their team(s).