HR veteran shares tips for avoiding 'productivity paranoia'
“Quiet quitting” has spawned a new trend: “productivity paranoia.”
In its recent Work Trend Index Special Report, Microsoft defines productivity paranoia as “when leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though hours worked, number of meetings, and other activity metrics have increased.” The data suggests this is spreading, as 85% of leaders say that the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive, according to the report.
Meanwhile, 81% of employees say it’s important that their managers help them prioritize their workload, but less than a third (31%) say their managers have given clear guidance during one-on-ones.
Of course, if managers aren’t communicating to employees what their goals are and what objectives they are going to be measured by, then productivity will inevitably suffer. That’s always been the case, but outcome-based performance management is more important than ever in a hybrid world, according to Katherine Loranger, chief people officer at Safeguard Global, an Austin, TX-based global workforce management company.
“To have a successful and productive remote or hybrid workforce, employees must have a clear understanding of what is expected of them,” Loranger told HRD. “It doesn’t matter when, where or how an employee is working, if they know how they’ll be measured, and the impact their work will have, productivity will increase.”
To identify productivity deficits, Loranger says it’s vital that managers conduct regular one-on-one meetings with direct reports at least once a week. “These meetings should have clear agendas and discuss project status updates,” says Loranger, a 20-year veteran of the HR industry who has previously worked at First California Bank, Lammes Candies, DMX, Inc. and Mood Media.
“One indication that an employee is being productive is they will be able to come to these meetings on a regular basis with an update on a project’s progression. If managers hold these meetings regularly, they will be able to see if, when and where a project is going off track, and the employee and manager can work together to reset priorities as needed. It’s important to note that meeting fatigue in a remote environment can be exhausting, so stating an agenda, purpose and desired outcome of each meeting will garner the best results.”
How to train and support managers to manage hybrid workforce
Although there needs to be baseline training for managers on how to effectively manage teams in a hybrid environment, Loranger says, training shouldn’t stop there. For example, when someone is promoted, it’s typically because they’re excelling at the job itself, not necessarily because they’re equipped or experienced at managing others. Therefore, companies must invest in learning and development to prepare new managers for everything that lies ahead, both in terms of their new responsibilities and the soft skills needed to oversee their subordinates.
“Training managers to use the specific tools at their disposable to track the progress of projects, as well as how to identify the metrics that should be measured to gauge their employees’ success, is crucial,” Loranger says. “It’s important that mangers are given actionable advice on how to guide their employees if projects go off track. It's also critical to empower managers to recognize employee preferences for working and meet those.”
“This people-centric approach to management can also help close the gap of manager productivity paranoia,” Loranger adds. “Once clear KPIs (key performance indicators) and measurable objectives are set, the manager should leave how the work gets done up to the employee. Whether that’s a condensed work week, flexible hours or location of work, enabling employees to meet their goals in a way that best fits their lifestyle will generate the most productivity.”
During her decades as an HR leader, Loranger has learned that understanding how to set appropriate KPIs and smart goals isn’t an inherent skill. Rather, it’s a learned one. She suggests HR leaders help coach managers on how to not only establish the proper goals to gauge an employee’s success, but also talk with their subordinate about how those goals contribute to the organization’s overall mission.
“HR leaders should also serve as a support system for managers throughout every step of the people management process,” Loranger says. “HR leaders must have strong connections with managers, giving them a safe space to coach and offer support. Beyond simply delivering formal training sessions, HR leaders should conduct frequent check-ins with managers to offer support when employee productivity is suffering or take best practices from a productive team to replicate across the organization. This type of informal training goes a long way in setting managers up for success.”