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Are bosses experiencing "productivity paranoia"?

30 September 2022

A new survey suggests bosses don't trust their staff to work productively at home...

More people than ever are now working from home – 30.6% of the UK workforce now works from home in some capacity, according to data from the Office of National Statistics, which is more than double the number of homeworkers in 2019 (14.5%). However, a new survey has revealed that there’s a gap between how productive employees think they’re being working from home – and how productive their bosses think they’re being.

And to put it bluntly, their bosses are not convinced. The survey, conducted by Microsoft, found that although 87% of staff believe they’re as productive, if not more productive, when working from home, 80% of managers disagree. 

This points to a lack of trust from bosses that their staff work as hard at home as in the office. Sales of employee monitoring software and other staff surveillance equipment went up 50% during the pandemic, according to research by Top10VPN, a virtual private network review site – but is this “productivity paranoia” justified? Some research suggests it definitely is not; one commonly cited Stanford University study which reviewed 16,000 Chinese call centre workers with a view to discovering whether they worked more productively from home concluded that there was a 13% increase in their performance.

Employers, however, remain unconvinced. Writing for Forbes, behavioural scientist Lindsay Kohler puts this down to a lack of willingness to cede control. “People always get stuck when it comes to control,” she writes. “Control is a strong coping technique for uncertainty. Uncertainty, in turn, is one of the most maddening and uncomfortable emotions for people to manage.”

Tough as it might be, Kohler believes that managers have to relinquish control, stop micro-managing, and trust employees to do their jobs. “…[W]hen we let go of control, we gain so much more. We gain goodwill, trust, creativity and a level of openness in the business that enables people to flourish,” she writes. 

Reacting to the news of this survey on Linkedin, the response from the business community fell largely on the side of the home-working employees. One commentator, Nick Clayson, a Head of Legal, wrote: “This could be re-written as "90 percent of office workers reported being productive when working remotely but despite that, most of their bosses don't trust them.”

Adam Currie, a Digital Learning Specialist, wrote: “Once again, senior leaders at some huge businesses are showing how hopelessly out of touch they are with the modern employee, and are ignoring the vast amounts of continually accruing data which indicate the exact opposite of the claim.

He went on: “The recent data is quite clear — remote/hybrid workers are not only more productive than their permanent in-office counterparts, but they are also more than twice as happy in their job and on average less likely to leave.”

Although working from home isn’t an option for many of those working in facilities management, this issue is nonetheless pertinent as it points to how offices and other commercial buildings will be run in the future. And it seems that the debate on hybrid working, and whether that’s set to continue or be replaced by a return-to-office, is very much alive and kicking.


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