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The Myth and Reality of Employee Productivity

Even as someone who studies disruption, I never could have anticipated the tremendous chaos that descended upon the world these last few years.

What has been the effect on our productivity?

An article in the Harvard Business Review says… it depends. Some companies have thrived. Most others have struggled. “The key difference between the best and the rest is how successful they were at managing the scarce time, talent, and energy of their workforces before Covid-19.”

The Myth

But just how do you define a productive worker? There is a belief in our society that pervades the workplace that all people can achieve the same level of productivity. That is a myth.

Imagine the following scenario: Two employees who are working on similar projects finish their work in 40 hours and 60 hours, respectively. Both projects meet quality expectations.

As a manager, how do you respond? Do you reward the one who completed it in a shorter time and punish the one who did not? How would you reward the first employee? What factors should you consider before making those decisions?

A manager might be inclined to pile more work on the employee who finished in 40 hours. The reasoning is that because the employee functions at a higher productivity level, he or she should get more work added to the proverbial plate. Another instinct by the manager could be, “How can I get my 60-hour employee to my 40-hour employee’s productivity level?”

The Reality

The reality is this: Even before the difficult changes and circumstances brought about by the pandemic, not all people can achieve the same levels of productivity.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A team member may bring value beyond that of work output or efficiency. He or she may offer expertise, a dynamic personality, or strong relationship-building skills that are critical for your organization’s growth.

Understanding what drives your staff, and conversely, what outside circumstance might be hindering someone’s work at any given point in time, is critical in knowing how to manage and reward the various levels of productivity within a team.

In the above scenario, the manager’s response to add more work to the employee will likely drive his productivity down. Oftentimes, that 40-hour employee will resist an increased workload and begin to pace out his work schedule to match the 60-hour employee. Managers instead can use creativity in their responses to create true rewards, by creating opportunities the employee values, such as personal development or a flex schedule.

Another factor to consider, and one that is discussed in the HBR article, is that companies who have succeeded through the pandemic minimize wasted time and help employees focus better.

For time management tips and strategies, I invite you to visit my PowerPlay library, where you can download techniques to help you and your team operate more efficiently and navigate through today’s tough challenges.


Do you need help working through leadership challenges to transform disruption into opportunity? Contact us to learn about Bill’s leadership keynote speakingexecutive coaching, and facilitation services.

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash