Is productivity paranoia on the rise?

According to a significant new Microsoft survey, managers and employees have fundamentally different opinions on productivity when working from home.

Bosses question whether remote work is equally productive as being in the office.

“While 87% of employees said they could function just as well from home as they could on-site, 80% of managers didn’t agree.”

This headline reflects the primary tension present in the modern workplace, one that the pandemic has exacerbated as people reconsider the role that work now plays in their lives.

Today, most of us are engaged in managing the primary tension between expressing and living out a specific purpose or vision that we have for our lives and ensuring we have the financial security to provide for ourselves, our families, and our futures.

In the workplace, more income creates greater financial security and is usually derived from taking on greater responsibilities (e.g., managing others, managing costs, and creating value evidenced by revenue and/or profit).

In most organisations, this means we seek to move up the hierarchy. For this to happen, we need to gain and maintain acceptance and approval from the people around us, our key stakeholders.

Failure to accomplish our objectives results in lost support, credibility, and opportunities to progress our careers.

Our sense of safety may shift. We may feel less secure, particularly in an unfavourable economic environment.

We manage this primary tension between purpose and safety in the workplace all of the time.

In systems dynamics, the structure of something—its design—determines its performance. For example, my Vauxhall Corsa will not perform like a Formula 1 race car, obviously, because it has a very different design.

In the workplace, human beings are the structure.

When we focus on doing what matters most to us, in Leadership Circle parlance, we call this a creative structure of mind.

Energy and information flow within us and between ourselves and others with relative ease. We find ourselves able to apply our energy to balance our attention between the task at hand and the people around us engaged in the task. The results follow.

When we focus on staying safe through an attempt to exert control over outcomes, complying to fit in or protecting ourselves to preserve our financial security, our key stakeholder support, and the line of sight to career progression opportunities that go with that, we are operating from a reactive structure of mind.

When we overuse our reactive tendencies (and we all do this to some degree), then there are consequences to that.

The Microsoft survey results amplify managers’ desire to exert greater control over employee productivity (‘productivity paranoia’). The reactive tendency to want control outcomes, to stay safe and secure, is clear.

When we learn to operate from the creative structure of mind, we will see workplaces become more human, and productivity will follow.

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