· Comment

How can managers beat productivity paranoia?

Billionaire entrepreneur James Dyson made headlines this week as he slammed the right to work from home as 'economically illiterate' - but he's not alone in his productivity paranoia as many managers still have issues trusting remote workers.

Productivity paranoia is the concept that even if employees are working effectively, managers won’t believe it if they are out of sight.

This is worrying because trust is one of the most important components of every work environment. Without it, staff may feel uncomfortable communicating their thoughts and ideas and struggle to support each other.

Negative work environments can exacerbate behaviours like overworking and presenteeism and it’s well reported these, in turn, can lead to heightened stress states, which impact physical and mental wellbeing.

Employers warned to mind the gender gap in hybrid work

How to overcome the top five productivity killers impacting HR

Monitoring remote employees: will it push people back to the office?

For productivity paranoia to end, managers need to recognise their experiences as leaders, are not the same as their teams. Employees want their managers to be empathetic, supportive and show an interest in their work, without feeling like they are trying to interfere.

While checking in with staff was common at the start of lockdown, it seems to have become less of a business priority, with managers feeling depleted and emotionally drained from it. However, check-ins are vital in a remote working world, especially because many employees view their managers as the most important link they have with their company.

There is a difference between checking in and micromanaging though. Good managers are enablers, not enforcers. Regular meetings shouldn’t focus solely on results or exhaustive checklists. This is what undermines trust and makes employees feel patronised and disempowered.

Discussing goals, praising accomplishments, and analysing any gaps in work schedules are more effective measurements. Open conversations about these will ensure teams feel supported but also accountable for their work.

Effective remote work requires a suite of communication and collaboration tools to empower hybrid teams too. Selecting the right tools that work for everyone is essential to enable effective communication between colleagues and teams.

Finally, business leaders looking to support their team in a remote or hybrid working world must understand the stresses posed and help to alleviate them.

For example, if employees feel they are not trusted, remote working can lead to issues like working from home guilt, when employees increase their working hours to compensate for the benefit of home working.

It is important for businesses to outline remote working expectations clearly to ease these worries. Let individuals know they aren’t expected to work longer hours just because they’re not commuting.

Employers should also signpost individuals towards the emotional wellbeing support available to them. This may include employee assistance programmes (EAPs) or cognitive behavioural therapy sessions, which give individuals direct access to a specialist who can help them understand and break unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviours and enhance their ability to cope in new and uncertain situations.

Digital or virtual therapy solutions can be effective too. Remember, for many people, the notion of sharing a vulnerability or admitting a problem, is a barrier in itself.

However, some research suggests counselling conducted online is as effective as face-to-face sessions.

During 2020 Nuffield Health therapists delivered 3.7 million minutes of therapy remotely with outcomes comparative to therapy delivered face to face.

Marc Holl is head of primary care at Nuffield Health