Why we need a productive conversation about productivity

Why we need a productive conversation about productivity

On January 27th, the first Coronavirus-related comment was left on the Peakon platform. The comment — which came from an employee at a business in China, four days after the city of Wuhan entered lockdown — was the first indication that concern for the pandemic was spilling over into our professional lives.

As the virus spread, employees globally became more anxious and alarmed, and comments started to pour in. By March, 1.5% of all employee survey comments were about COVID-19. By April, that number had more than doubled to 3.5%. For context, Coronavirus comments were occurring as frequently in employee surveys as terms like “manager” and “meeting rooms” normally would. 

At first, employees’ comments focused on the immediate practicalities of the pandemic, and how they could keep themselves safe from infection. However, as governments across the world began to implement lockdown measures and many employees began working remotely, this concern shifted to a focus on wellbeing.

A full breakdown of the employee response to COVID-19 can be found in our report: How Employees and Organisations are Responding to COVID-19. But right now, employees are struggling with one thing above all — productivity, or more accurately, their employer’s perception of it.

Employees globally are concerned their organisation doesn’t understand their productivity

As the lockdown came into effect and employees adjusted to full-time remote working, terms including family, lockdown, stress and workload began to filter more frequently into survey comments. This gives us insight into how productivity has become top of mind for employees globally.

To support organisations and help them understand the impact of their COVID response measures, our Organisational Data Science team developed a free-to-use COVID-19 question set. This question set includes six core questions measuring employee perceptions on topics including safety, productivity, and communication.

This question set contains six questions that are designed to measure employee perception of factors including safety, productivity and communication.

  • [Company] is responding appropriately to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • I have received regular and helpful communication from [Company] regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • I have the equipment and technology to support working from home for an extended period of time.
  • [Company] has implemented appropriate precautions to keep me safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • [Company] is supportive of me caring for my loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • [Company] understands how the COVID-19 pandemic may affect my productivity.

Out of all six questions, employees globally are leaving the lowest scores on their perception of how their organisation views their productivity.

Communication is key to supporting employees

When we dove deeper into the comments employees are leaving on this question, we gained a little more insight into this topic. 

Employees that responded positively to this question cited good levels of communication, empathy from leaders, and flexibility from their organisation. 

But tellingly, employees that left negative scores commented that their organisation had either not set expectations on productivity during this period, or that expectations were even higher than before. They also highlighted a lack of understanding from their organisation with regard to parenthood, a lack of autonomy and trust, and a lack of empathy for mental health issues.

Communication emerged as the core issue, and the solution for allaying employee concerns. Open discussions are key for establishing goals and expectations, as well as ensuring that the appropriate measures are in place to support those who need additional time, resources or guidance.

How you can support your employees during the pandemic

Almost half-a-million survey responses and over 25,000 employee comments reveal that employees globally are worried that their employers do not understand how the pandemic is impacting their productivity — and understandably, productivity has been a key focus for organisations, too.

Though the instinct may be for organisations to place an increased focus on employee productivity — perhaps with the support of tools that analyse time spent on certain tasks — current, stressful working conditions require organisations to instead establish a culture of trust and autonomy to get the most out of their teams.

Psychological safety is an important part of workplace culture — heavy-handed monitoring can lead to employees feeling untrusted and unmotivated, whereas open conversations about workload and the acknowledgement of difficulties can allay fears and lead to constructive solutions.

As your employees continue to work remotely and juggle the demands of their personal and professional lives, they will need the full support and trust of their organisation. Each employee will have differing circumstances and needs — and it’s up to organisations to understand each, and provide an environment where each employee can succeed in this new working context.

To learn more about how employees globally are responding to COVID-19 — and what you can do as an organisation to support your workforce — read our full report.