I don’t believe it. I have a hunch that busyness is up, masking as productivity, and that effectiveness, getting the right things done, is actually down. At the same time, we all sense that wellbeing is down. How is that productive?
The number of articles claiming that productivity is up during COVID is increasing. Sources include Statistics Canada, Huffington Post, Forbes, and Google. Much of the language around this topic makes it sound as if employees are machines! Here are some themes:
With the exception of measuring lines of code, the articles do not specify how productivity is measured. If employees surveyed are simply answering the question, “Has your level of productivity gone up since working remotely during the pandemic?”, I think many will answer, “yes.” This is because we all feel busy. We continue to task-switch, which makes us feel like a lot is happening. The real question is, are we effective?
Another reason productivity appears to be up is due to the increase in companies using surveillance software. When you know you are being watched, anxiety and fear arise, causing you to make sure you are active in company IM channels, for example. Fear-based productivity is toxic and does not contribute to high value creation. This is because fear kills creativity. As a result, the level of innovation may go down.
The pandemic environment increases employment uncertainty. Thus, even without surveillance, many employees fear losing their jobs. They are motivated to “be more productive”, whatever that looks like, to mitigate the risk of job loss. This can’t be healthy.
In parallel, the number of articles reporting that wellbeing is down during COVID is also increasing. Harvard Business Review even published a series of articles called, The Burnout Crisis.
Some alarming trends from notable sources are provided below.
“According to a July 2020 survey of 1,500 respondents by FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA), 75 percent of people have experienced burnout at work, with 40 percent saying they’ve experienced burnout during the pandemic specifically. Thirty-seven percent are currently working longer hours than usual since the pandemic started. Having flexibility in their workday (56 percent) was overwhelmingly listed as the top way their workplace could offer support, well in front of encouraging time off and offering mental health days (43 percent)”.1
“February 2021 marks 11 consecutive months of diminished mental health when compared to before the pandemic. The level of mental health in February indicates that the working population is currently as distressed as the most distressed one percent of working Canadians, prior to 2020.”2
“These (burnout) feelings drive absenteeism in the workplace as ~63% of employees are more likely to call in sick if they are feeling burnt out. Further, unproductive time on the job or presenteeism issues may be an even bigger challenge. Studies show presenteeism costs organizations $1.5 trillion USD each year globally.”3
Productivity with decreased employee wellbeing, cannot be counted as productive. Decreased wellbeing causes higher turnover and sick-days and does not result in outcomes anyone would name as productive.
I believe leaders can inspire their teams to create value, without sacrificing wellbeing. This requires taking a holistic, integrated view about the nature of work.
First, begin to move away from productivity measurement based on the rate at which goods or services are produced. Stop measuring humans like machines via output per unit of labor. Instead, begin measuring effectiveness, in alignment with the higher purpose the organization is trying to achieve.
Global leadership expert, Dr. Lance Secretan, has helped major corporations understand that inspiration is a source of effectiveness. He defines effective as, “Achieving desired outcomes successfully.” When we are inspired, being effective requires almost no effort. When we are inspired, we operate in a state of flow which happens to be a state of extreme focus.
Second, begin to value employee attention as an important asset required for both innovation and wellbeing. Attention can be protected and harnessed, by designing a future of work with a culture and work spaces, both physical and virtual, that create the conditions for undistracted, focused work time. Value creation and innovation immediately increase as less time is lost due to digital distractions and other interruptions.
How focused are you? Find out in 2 minutes. Take the Focus Scorecard.