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When the primary measure of individual success is input, the message is that companies come before people. Why is that organizational structure so problematic? That type of messaging breeds disfunction, often seeing a surge in burnout that takes a major toll on job satisfaction, employee wellbeing, and the bottom line.

To change that, we're discussing what types of productivity can be harmful to company culture and what research shows about fostering productivity within a healthy system.

When is productivity culture toxic?

Being productive isn't always the key to satisfaction or success. When work falls under the category of toxic productivity, it means employees no longer feel driven to achieve or may lack fulfillment from their achievements.

In terms of what's driving their efforts, it's no longer about being inspired or motivated to achieve great work, but more about stretching to meet high expectations, or focusing on the time and amount of effort put in — even as they struggle individually.

In a toxic productivity structure, the primary focus is on the company's goals rather than the employee experience.

As individuals struggle with issues such as overload, burnout, and high stress, the relationship between employer and employee sours, regardless of how "productive" workers become. That's because, in a toxic productivity structure, the primary focus is on the company's goals rather than the employee experience.

The problem with this system is that companies who subscribe to the notion that the output generated justifies pushing people to work longer hours, take less time off, and blur the lines between home and work are missing the forest for the trees. And they're causing chronic burnout.

What happens when toxic productivity goes up? Morale goes down. Employee wellbeing suffers.

In light of the "great resignation", the growing trend of employees leaving their jobs, this approach to productivity could have major — and lasting — implications for both attraction and retention efforts. But the good news is that there is something employers can do about it.

Who benefits from employee wellbeing?

Remember: Happy employees work smarter, not harder. They spend their time more effectively, automate manual tasks, streamline tedious processes, and strike the right balance between work and the other important aspects of their life.

A healthy system that facilitates employee wellbeing looks like this: Leaders emphasize both individual and enterprise productivity in healthy ways, meaning they understand the value in helping their team grow and develop. Healthy productivity involves meaningful collaboration, education opportunities, building upon skills, and enabling people to excel in their role so the organization as a whole can become greater than the sum of its parts.

Rethinking the concept of employee wellbeing

Pointing to the success of remote work, many employees believe new ways of working are not only feasible but also sustainable. That being said, these flexible and hybrid work models bring about their own unique challenges when it comes to facilitating a healthy system of productivity.

Long hours do not indicate better work

Working from home during the pandemic hasn't resulted in less productivity or shorter work hours. Thanks to weakened boundaries between home and work life, employees are working longer. After all, it's all too easy to continue working long after normal hours when their desks are just a few steps away from where they eat and sleep.

But here's what we know: Working longer hours doesn't increase productivity.

A study from Stanford University found a sharp decline in productivity per hour when people work more than 50 hours a week. The drop in productivity is so significant that after 55 hours, researchers say putting in any more hours of work would be pointless.

And in a 2004 review by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, long workdays reportedly caused a decline in vigilance and a deterioration in work performance.

Here's what else we know: A growing body of research shows that long hours are bad for employee wellbeing and health. 

So, what would happen if we shortened working hours? From 2015 to 2019, the Reykjavík City Council and the national government of Iceland trialed a shorter workweek to find the answer to that question. In most workplaces, productivity remained the same or improved when they paid people the same amount for shorter hours.

Having strong work-life boundaries isn't a weakness

In a global study conducted by Oracle, 78% of the participants felt that the pandemic had negatively impacted their mental health.

Identity can often get tied up with where we work, what we do, and how we do it. Of course, the pandemic is causing a massive shift toward accomplishing personal goals and responsibilities. This rebalance is causing many modern professionals to reset their priorities and reevaluate the demands placed on them by their work.

On one hand, having extra time to sleep and spend time with family is a huge plus. Skipping out on rush hour traffic and nixing the unpredictable commute times has freed people up to exercise during the day, dedicate more time to their hobbies, and take midday breaks to walk the dog.

On the other hand, the primary way to get facetime with their boss and colleagues is now online. That makes socialization and team building somewhat challenging. Especially when you consider that Americans that spend six to seven hours per day socializing report the highest levels of happiness, according to Gallup.

Accept that jobs need to be structured to help people facilitate a good work-life balance. Companies can do their part by offering more flexible work policies, providing time off, and reconsidering the value of their office with new needs in mind. In a day and age where work can be done from home, the office should offer a little more of what everyone is missing. When they do that, everyone can reap the rewards. In other words, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Beware information overload

Today, people spend the workday juggling a never-ending stream of distractions. Their inboxes are full. Incoming emails. Meeting invites. Video call after video call. Messages from colleagues. Notifications are rolling in each time they're assigned a new task, there's an upcoming due date, or some project detail has been updated.

Workers are feeling the burden of communication overload. According to the recent Workplace Wellness Report from email app Superhuman, these distractions are seriously limiting the productivity of both remote and in-office workers.

One thing employers can do to improve employee wellbeing is to minimize constant interruptions, encourage employees to block off "no contact" hours on their schedule for focused work, and communicate clearly about company expectations regarding response times.

More autonomy helps improve employee wellbeing

Given greater freedom of choice, how would employees personalize their workday to maximize their time? Whether they'd prefer to work onsite or remotely, how much say they have in what's more appropriate for their current task shouldn't be micromanaged or babysat.

A lack of involvement in decision-making is a big contributor to employee stress. According to the APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey, nearly half (48%) of those surveyed said not being involved in decisions contributed to their stress, compared to just 39% who said the same in 2019.

Productivity, in some cases, should be the responsibility of the individual. Trust and empower your workforce and watch it pay back in the form of employee loyalty, satisfaction at work, and greater success.

Improve employee wellbeing in your workplace

There's a lot of variance along the services, digital tools, and physical aspects employees will need when working in the hybrid office. Then, things get even more complex when you factor in the need to balance the technological, social, and economic shifts that will impact your return.

Set up your work environment for success

Non-standardized workplace experiences are becoming the norm, and that will require employers to support a broad spectrum of needs and motivations for office-based work. An important part of any workplace strategy is empowering the modern professional wherever they are — whether they're moving throughout the office, sitting at their desk, or planning the upcoming workweek from home.

For hybrid employees who need to search for suitable space based on when they'll be in the office, Teem's employee app gives them the power to quickly see which rooms and desks are available and then book their preferred space in advance or at a moment's notice.

Deploy self-service technology

Because the workplace isn't a static environment, legacy systems and traditional ways of working have shortcomings that become more pronounced as the world places more value on workplace experience and employee well-being.

But leaders also need to make sure new workplace technology is a good fit for their organization, so tools that integrate with their other systems and applications are essential.

That's why our tools connect with calendaring apps, so reservation details stay organized and in sync with employees' schedules — and sensors, so employees can see real-time availability information as they explore desk and room options.

In the workplace, technology is one of the most significant factors impacting the employee experience. In our latest e-book, we discuss the growing importance of technology in the employee experience and share how to identify the right solutions for your flexible workplace. Get your copy.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Teem

Teem by iOFFICE provides enterprises with space scheduling and management, workplace analytics, building, and campus wayfinding, and visitor management to help cultivate workplaces that fuel productivity, efficiency, and creativity.

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