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Managing productivity paranoia in the workplace

Learning and Development | 6 Min Read

Managing productivity paranoia in the workplace


In 2020, most organizations started operating remotely due to the pandemic. This encouraged recruiters to proactively assess employee productivity using monitoring software and remote-first management strategies.

Despite severe measures to maintain and improve employee productivity, many managers believe the productivity’s desired standard isn’t being met, leading to productivity paranoia.

The term was originally coined by Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, who reported that 87% of employees feel productive at work, yet only 12% of senior leaders have complete confidence that their team is productive.

Leaders think their employees are not productive, whereas employees think they are being productive, and in many cases, even feel burnt out.

Satya Nadella
CEO of Microsoft

Organizations have started using new tools and collaboration technologies to achieve balance in the workplace and overcome productivity paranoia. Mercer | Mettl’s 360-Degree Feedback tool helps companies bridge this gap by providing insights into employees’ productivity. This tool helps companies better understand their workforce at a 360-degree level.


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The importance of productivity in an organization

Productivity is fundamental to achieving organizational goals, maximizing efficiency, and staying ahead of the competition. A productive environment accelerates output and revenue, helping retain valuable employees, building a positive company culture, and fostering a sense of accomplishment.

Modern workplaces focus more on technology and automation to streamline processes because it helps create a productive workforce. It allows employees to work smarter, ensuring timely task completion within deadlines and exceeding expectations.

Use Mercer | Mettl’s reskilling suite, which includes Skills Gap Analysis, Learning Agility & Proximity Assessment, and the Training Effectiveness Assessment. Skills Gap Analysis identifies gaps in required and necessary on-the-job knowledge and skills, Training Agility & Proximity finds high potential employees, and Training Effectiveness Assessment evaluates the training program’s efficiency.

Productivity additionally plays a crucial role in employee retention. Productive workers are more engaged, satisfied, and motivated, leading to lower turnover rates and increased job satisfaction. It saves an organization from high recruiting and training costs.


Challenges faced due to productive paranoia

Productivity paranoia poses several challenges for organizations, some of them are:

  • Leaders and employees have different work patterns and responsibilities. Thus, leaders may not know the exact methods to motivate employees.
  • Ambiguous expectations from leaders cause productivity paranoia when they may fail to articulate deliverables and timelines or have unrealistic expectations from employees.
  • Leaders may be tracking employee activity rather than the impact.
  • Poor understanding between leaders and employees may reduce performance, leading to productivity paranoia.


How productivity paranoia impacts workplace morale

A Microsoft report describes productivity paranoia as a situation “where leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though hours worked, the number of meetings and other activity metrics have increased.”

Due to productivity paranoia, workplace managers increase activity monitoring for employees. Therefore, employees work accordingly under pressure when they know they are being constantly monitored. This encourages employees to engage in productivity theater, a phenomenon where they prove that they are working for the sake of appearances.

On the other hand, productivity paranoia manifests as micromanaging, excessive meetings, burnout, or workplace surveillance for managers. However, Colette Stallbaumer, general manager of Microsoft 365, explains, “These practices are counter-productive to helping people thrive. Leaders must pivot from worrying if people are working enough and help them focus on the work that is most important and impactful.”


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How managers can handle productivity paranoia

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Prioritize important tasks:

Instead of tracking every employee’s activity or task, managers should help employees prioritize and complete important and impactful tasks in the correct order. Setting clear goals and objectives, setting achievable deadlines, and providing appropriate guidance help employees succeed in the workplace.

Communicate clearly:

Managers should communicate expectations, provide guidelines for measuring productivity, and set clear performance targets and metrics. Offering regular feedback to employees without being intrusive ensures that employees understand their responsibilities in the workplace. Leaders should communicate expectations for transparency, ownership, accountability, and dependencies clearly.

Encourage autonomy:

By allowing employees to have the required autonomy, managers can help them feel trusted and motivated to work harder. Constantly checking on employees can cause feelings of mistrust and hinder employee productivity. Giving employees control over their work processes and allowing them to take ownership of their tasks and projects can improve efficacy and work quality.

Encourage work-life balance:

Organizations should encourage employees to take breaks, avoid overworking, and promote a healthy work-life balance. Set clear work boundaries and encourage employees to take time off when needed.

Allow flexible schedules:

Some job profiles can’t be limited to a 9 to 5 schedule. Therefore, these employees should be offered flexible working options. Recognizing employees’ challenges and finding a solution helps foster a healthy company culture.

Implement a four-day workweek:

Managers can implement a four-day workweek to prevent weariness and encourage employees to spend more time on hobbies, with family, and taking care of themselves. This can improve mental well-being, resulting in better performance at work and other areas of life.

Lead by example:

Managers should model their behavior similar to their expectations from employees, such as taking regular breaks and avoiding working late when not necessary. They can set an example for employees, allowing them to build healthy workplace habits, consistently work on their skills, and ensure timely work completion.

Use technology:

Using appropriate technology, such as employee monitoring software can create an optimistic atmosphere without burdening employees. The technology is used to support and enhance employee productivity, rather than to monitor and control employee behavior, which brings positive results.

Address burnout:

Managers should understand and address burnout signs by encouraging employees to take time off or seek help if needed. Understanding what your team requires to recharge helps keep them motivated. For example, taking a day off, brainstorming, organizing a team lunch, etc.

Provide feedback:

Providing regular feedback to employees and addressing any issues affecting their productivity ensures that employees are satisfied at the workplace. Conducting regular performance evaluations and providing constructive feedback tailored to every employee's needs and goals is vital.

Focus on employee efficiency:

Rather than focusing on hours spent in the office, focus on the value offered by employees. Measure their productivity through their deliverables and performance.

Create a zone for privacy:

Some employees like to work in silence, so creating zones for privacy in the office can help them work without intrusion.


Key steps to improve productivity and eliminate paranoia


Use OKRs

Objectives and key results (OKRs) support organizational goals. This includes the objective, what the team should achieve, and key results, how the team achieves success. Focusing on OKRs helps managers in the following ways:

  • Employees start understanding their role in the organization. They know at what level they contribute to the organizational goal and how their contribution impacts other functions.
  • OKRs encourage everyone to follow the same goal; speak one language. Therefore, everyone starts aiming for common success.

Stretch employee goals

The key to reducing productivity paranoia is to stretch employee goals slightly. This means that even when employees achieve 80%, they contribute their share to the larger objective. Additionally, encourage learning and recognition even when employees reach 60% to 70%. It should be a consistent process to improve.

Understand your workforce

Usually, multiple generations work together in one workplace. Aligning the goals, perspectives, and viewpoints of every generation in one solution is challenging. Therefore, managers should adopt varied strategies to address the motivation and working styles of different generations. This will make every employee feel seen, improving their loyalty towards the organization.

Create a rhythm

Frequently check your employee motivation program to understand challenges and solve problems. Regularly make changes in your framework to remove strategies that don’t work and include things that help improve motivation.



Organizations should foster a culture of trust and inclusiveness to address productivity paranoia. Managers should take the necessary steps to understand employees’ challenges and recognize strategies that can create a productive and positive work environment for different teams. They must strive to find the right balance between autonomy and management.

Using Mercer | Mettl’s Skills Gap Analysis Assessment, managers can understand skills gaps in the workforce, which can be further used to create a reskilling or learning strategy to improve workforce productivity.



What are the factors that decrease employee productivity at the workplace?

Why do leaders become paranoid?

What are the factors affecting productivity in an organization?

Originally published February 13 2023, Updated February 13 2023

Written by

Vaishali has been working as a content creator at Mercer | Mettl since 2022. Her deep understanding and hands-on experience in curating content for education and B2B companies help her find innovative solutions for key business content requirements. She uses her expertise, creative writing style, and industry knowledge to improve brand communications.

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