Tracking employee productivity used to seem straightforward: Calculate hours worked against raw output, rinse, and repeat. But it has become increasingly clear that tracking time isn’t the best way to study or measure worker productivity—it only tells part of the story.
Employees who sit at their desk for 8 hours might appear more productive on paper (and by reputation) than colleagues who are in the office for 6 hours. One study showed that people who spent the most time in the office were perceived as more reliable than their colleagues. There’s more to the story, though. Some folks who work 6 hours can finish the same number of tasks as those who work 8 and be equally productive despite any perceived disparities.
Another problem calls into question the effectiveness of time tracking: presenteeism. While absenteeism involves an employee not showing up for work physically, presenteeism involves psychological absence. The employee is physically on the job but not mentally. Presenteeism costs companies an estimated $1.5 trillion annually, and one study found that workers fall prey to it approximately 57.5 days each year.
Add in the rising national interest in a 4-day workweek and more flexible hybrid working arrangements, and there are real questions about the best way to track productivity moving forward. It’s clear that time tracking isn’t the most viable option—but what is?
The Problems with Time Tracking
Determining how to track productivity can be difficult. There are a few critical flaws in the time-tracking approach. One of the biggest is a fundamental misunderstanding of productivity. Plenty of people equate productivity with efficiency, but they’re not the same thing. Productivity is output quantified, such as the number of widgets sold per week; efficiency involves streamlining systems and processes.
When looking at productivity vs. efficiency, it’s clear that you can measure both separately. But efficiency isn’t relevant when tracking employee productivity because an efficient worker could still be unproductive. Someone could efficiently answer e-mails within 3 minutes but neglect essential tasks. Efficiency can drive productivity, but it isn’t a measure of productivity in and of itself.
Furthermore, the rise of remote work has prompted many organizations to rely on time-tracking software and monitoring devices and systems to measure productivity; more than three-quarters of employers say they count on monitoring software to ensure workers stay on task. However, employees who feel like they’re being watched might also feel like they aren’t trusted.
This is meaningful. About 78% of executives and managers agree that productivity and trust go hand in hand. Therefore, leveraging so-called “tattleware” can impede rather than enhance productivity.
Using the Right Tools to Measure Employee Productivity
Here are a few best practices for organizations looking to eliminate time tracking and measure team productivity more effectively.
1. Set production metrics for each department or position.
Every job has unique qualities. Determine which individual or team responsibilities add value to the company and should be tracked (instead of hours spent on a project or client). These will become your productivity key performance indicators (KPIs). You can then measure employee productivity by leveraging self-reporting or digital tools, such as 360-degree feedback reports or analytics software.
Be aware that KPIs are easier to spot and track for some departments. Take sales, for instance. It’s relatively simple to measure conversion rates and quarterly sales growth. It may take more consideration, however, to determine what can be tracked in other departments or for other roles. You don’t need to start with dozens of KPIs, though. Choose the ones that matter most to begin the process; you can always add more in the future.
2. Follow deadline-driven KPIs in real time.
If one of your corporate productivity goals is to have your marketing team deliver 5% more leads month after month, resist waiting until the end of the month to check on the team’s status. Instead, look at lead numbers throughout the month to ensure everything is on track.
If you notice a discrepancy, this gives you a chance to intervene. There could be countless reasons for a fluctuation in lead responses. Your purpose as a leader is to spot inconsistencies and help people find the reasons behind them. Employees typically want to hit or exceed productivity goals, so this makes them open to discussions, coaching, and upskilling as long as productivity tracking is an objective tool and not an excuse for disciplinary action.
3. Hold workers accountable for deliverables instead of time on the clock.
As you move your culture toward a focus on productivity rather than efficiency, try to move away from hour-based expectations. You might let workers who finish their weekly tasks leave early on Friday, or you could adopt a more flexible schedule with remote workers.
To keep employees from taking advantage of flexibility, make it clear that more monitoring might be necessary if KPIs aren’t within acceptable levels. This puts the onus on employees to keep their quality and performance levels high as they work through tasks.
4. Find ways to minimize worker stress.
A case of burnout can hurt the productivity of any employee by causing fatigue, mistakes, and presenteeism. As a result, do your best to identify and squelch burnout when you see it coming. Some ways to defuse stress include reorganizing workflows or urging employees to use their paid time off (PTO).
Remember that waning productivity can be an early indicator of burnout. A worker whose productivity is suffering might benefit from a compassionate intervention designed to help bolster his or her excitement, engagement, and enjoyment levels.
Companies have to measure team productivity, but they don’t have to rely on time-tracking software. Adopt more holistic, accurate productivity strategies and measurements, and you’ll find that you get a more accurate picture of productivity in your organization while also fostering a more productive work environment.