Time and Productivity

Any kind of growth or development of an organization is dependent upon the productivity of its people. Some might say that the central role of any manager is to find ways to encourage employees to be more productive at work. But measuring productivity is a funny thing especially as it pertains to using time at the office or time on a task as the index. Employees who put in less time and produce great work, those who put in more time but produce less and those who create an illusion of productivity all present unique challenges.

Some organizational cultures are only capable of measuring productivity by looking at the clock, assuming that those who work longer hours are in fact more productive. But of course, this is a inaccurate measure of productivity – we have all spent a lot of time accomplishing nothing and have also been able to complete a difficult task in a short time. This “time=productivity” culture need not prevail. 

There are some things managers and employees can do to manage this madness. First, we need to ensure that time at work is not the only index of productivity. How? All employees, at every level, need to market themselves! Ensure that you meet with your supervisor on a regular basis (maybe weekly) to show her what you have accomplished – an informal, ongoing, status report of sorts. Without YOU providing this information, busy supervisors may be left to the only index they have access to – time. If you are one of those people who put in less time to produce great work, you certainly want to be judged based on your results, not how long you spent on a task. Without apology, let your supervisor know that time is not best way to judge your productivity. This way, you show transparency in communicating how you work, and confidence in how you work. Whatever you do, don’t let the 12-hour days of others put the pressure on you.

When we look on the management or supervisory side, we see a different set of challenges. The employee who puts in long hours but produces less can pose serious management and organizational problems. Without asking ourselves the question “What does productivity mean for us?” the organization might default to conceptualizing time on task as productivity. They might even end up rewarding effort or time on a task as opposed to results. While it is certainly commendable to recognize effort, rewarding or evaluating productivity based on time or effort may be misleading at best, and downright useless at worst. So what to do? Managers and supervisors need to ensure that the weekly, monthly or quarterly goals of employees are spelled out in terms of end results, as opposed to falling back on time or some other misleading, nebulous measure. This creates mutual accountability as well as clarity for both parties on what constitutes productivity. It also makes it easier for the employee to reach their goals, and for the manager to help them get there.

Lastly, there are unfortunately those who capitalize on organizations’ inarticulate or limited understanding of productivity by staying late (but not necessarily working late) and using other creative methods to feign busyness. Again, both you and your organizational culture need to tighten up their definitions of productivity. This can prevent the employee who uses staying late, the messy desk, and the old furrowed brow while carrying a bunch of files from faking productivity. Otherwise, efforts to enhance productivity might end up only encouraging people to stay later and later, and do less and less. Next thing you know, this extended time at work provides the impetus for employees complaining about work/life balance!

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