Last year when Covid-19 hit, a lot of people faced a sort of crisis when they were forced to spend a lot of time with themselves, something that most of them were not used to doing. They were also forced, like me, to work from home. Personally, I don’t like working from home as there are too many distractions and hindrances, and a lot of people feared that doing so would reduce their productivity.
Productivity is one of the most prevalent concepts in the modern working world. Employers want to make sure that their employees are working effectively and efficiently and making their workday productive because, after all, they are paying you and expect a good return on their investment. This is, however, not a new concept, and may be a residue from the days of the Industrial Revolution when people were working on production lines in factories and their output was important even at the expense of their physical and mental health.
A few years ago, I was surprised when I came across an article that mentioned how the hours of the clock were invented so that labour hours could be calculated. Apparently, we needed to tell time to be able to measure how much time we devoted to work. So, from medieval times people have focused on productivity to measure efforts versus results. The question remains… at what cost? This manner of thinking can lead to exploitation and reduce people to robots or cogs in a machine.
One of the reasons that lockdowns and staying at home affected many people is because they were conditioned from childhood to seek external validation and, sadly, were rewarded with love by their parents for what they did or didn’t do. We have all been raised in this way and the desire to receive praise and affection from our parents drove us to be modelled in this unhealthy way. To break this chain of thinking requires a paradigm shift; we all have worth, not for what we do, but because we exist. Our educational institutions have added to the problem, singling out praise for kids who are academic toppers and are quiet and subdued, and demonising kids who are loud and noisy and don’t perform as well. But kids are supposed to be disruptive and random.
For creative learning roles and professions, measuring productivity by ticking off boxes is obviously an erroneous approach but is it suited even for jobs where repetitive work is required? The answer is still no, because the tendency to disregard people’s feelings can result in viewing employees and workers as cogs in the machine, nothing else. Studies prove that people perform better when they are given breaks and are treated as human beings with needs, fears and desires. A productivity focused employer often forgets this.
Another issue with productivity is it tries to create a linear relationship between effort and result, and the focus is more on quantity than quality. The ‘do more to get more results’ mindset is flawed. As any digital marketer can tell you, it is not the number of leads that count but the quality of the leads and their value. It is a desperate attempt to control a lot of variables all at once and create the desired outcome. We all know that life doesn’t work like that and if we didn’t, Covid-19 taught us that the hard way. As humans our desire to control and regulate is laughable and inherently arrogant. If we look at the world around us, our interference has caused problems for nature and the animals that inhabit the earth. Clearly, we are not in charge and never were.
If productivity is not the way to measure good work then what is? Tom Goodwin, a thought leader, wrote this on LinkedIn: “Often it seems productivity seems to be about how hard someone has worked, or what they have produced, rather than what they have done that really matters. I feel like we waste an awful lot of time on things that demonstrate good intentions, compliance and busyness, rather than moving on to meaningfully the small number of (often super hard) things that REALLY matter. Which may include saying no.”
Goodwin and others are challenging the notion that if you look busy or work late then you are an asset to the company and emphasising shifting our focus from ‘getting things done’ to ‘doing things well’. However, it will take the corporate world a while to embrace this mindset.
Tyrone Tellis is Marketing Manager, Bogo. firstname.lastname@example.org