Main image of article New Study Warns of 'Productivity Paranoia' Impacting Hybrid Work

Employees think they’re productive at work—but not all managers agree.

Microsoft just released a study about hybrid work, and its data makes it clear that employees everywhere feel overloaded. Some 87 percent said they were productive at work—and that their meeting load per week had increased by 153 percent over the past year (with the number of overlapping/double-booked meetings increasing by 46 percent). Around 42 percent of participants said their multitasked during meetings to keep up with their workloads.

However, 85 percent of leaders claimed it was “challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive.” This is leading to what the report termed “productivity paranoia,” where “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 study surveyed 20,006 full-time employed or self-employed knowledge workers in 11 countries between July 7 and August 2 of this year.)  

There’s a worrisome gap there, and the study chalks it up to a lack of transparency and communication. “Many leaders and managers are missing the old visual cues of what it means to be productive because they can’t ‘see’ who is hard at work by walking down the hall or past the conference room,” it continued. “Indeed, compared to in-person managers, hybrid managers are more likely to say they struggle to trust their employees to do their best work (49 percent vs. 36 percent) and report that they have less visibility into the work their employees do (54 percent vs. 38 percent).”

Will this threaten companies’ embrace of hybrid work? That’s an important question. In the technology industry, at least, the unemployment rate remains notably low, meaning that skilled technology professionals have their choice of jobs—including jobs that give them the flexible schedules many of them crave. Whether or not this employment trend sustains, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle: hybrid work is something technologists want, and companies know they can offer it as an additional incentive to pull in the talent they need.  

The latest edition of Stack Overflow’s annual Developer Salary crunched data from 58,958 respondents worldwide and found that significant portions of technologists had either a fully remote or hybrid work option. Some 42 percent were hybrid; another 42 percent were remote; and only 14 percent were back in the office full-time. “Smaller organizations are most likely to be in-person, with 20 percent of 2-19 employee organizations in-person,” added the report accompanying Stack Overflow’s data. “The largest organizations, with 10k employees, are most likely to be hybrid.”

For managers, more communication and transparency might ease their fears about workers’ productivity. But it’s also up to technologists working from home to be as visible as possible. Frequent check-ins and updates about your project status can go a long way toward assuring managers that you’re getting the job done. If you feel overloaded, it’s time for a conversation about how your manager can help ease your workload or tweak your schedule.