The Productivity Paradox—Why Doing More Doesn't Get More Done

The Productivity Paradox
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Automation, integrations, productivity tools…

They’re all supposed to make work easier, and yet American office workers are busier than ever. 70% of employees say they spend more than 40 hours per week at work, which would be great if they were actively trying to get ahead, but almost half say they’re just trying to get caught up with tasks they weren’t able to finish in their eight-hour day.

And then there are these little lies we tell ourselves:

“Once this project is over I’ll scale down my hours.”

“When we finalize this new hire my hours will normalize.”

“Hopefully this new software will make my life easier…”

What we really should be doing is asking ourselves two questions:

  1. Is this extra work damaging my personal well being?
  2. Is this extra work truly meaningful?

If the answers are Yes to #1 and No to #2, that is a surefire recipe for burnout. Some people can hold out longer than others, but sooner or later, if you’ve answered in this fashion, you’ll run out of steam.

Employee burnout is super prevalent, and the side effects are not good for the person nor the organization. Employees will start feeling stressed, which leads to a myriad of personal problems, but the organization also suffers in terms of productivity and worse—if things get too bad, employees will begin looking for other greener pastures.

If it’s so easy to understand that overworking ourselves and our employees is so bad, why do we do it? Because things need to get done!

And that is the productivity paradox.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the factors that create the productivity paradox and what to do about them.

What Created The Productivity Paradox?

As we mentioned in the introduction, technology is supposed to make office workers more productive. Business owners and corporations literally bought into that theory, proved by growing IT spending.

Yet workers are not more productive. According to the Boston Consulting Group, in 2014 in the US, 51% of employees reported being disengaged, while 18% said they were “actively disengaged.” How terrifying is that—half of employees don’t care what happens at work, and nearly 20% are sabotaging or stealing (time, at least) from their employers.

So if technology isn’t making things easier, what is it doing?

It’s making things more complicated.

Every new app creates at least one new process, a new login, a new learning curve, and new ways for things to go wrong. While it’s true that most software applications are pretty good about integrating with other pieces of software, many of those applications are not integrated with how people work.

Much of this has to do with management—when employees are required to follow a strict process and are stuck in communication silos created by the organizational structure of the business, no amount of technological resources will help them because every process or login creates internal transaction costs, which are one of the causes of burnout.

In essence, the tools that we bought to help make employees more productive have had the opposite effect while adding stress. Whoops.

So what now?

Digital Transformation Is The Key To Productivity

If you’ve read any of our recent articles on digital transformation, you know that we’re not talking about going out and buying more software to try and solve this situation.

Rather, we suggest taking an honest look at what you do and realize what work at your company really drives value. Ask yourself which employees are doing those tasks, and are there any ways for them to do the tasks better or faster. If you find that there are any roadblocks in their way created by arbitrary processes or communication silos, consider revising those.

Once you understand what employees really do, and how that affects the service you deliver, you can create situations and environments that help them thrive.

  • Do projects often stall during the handoff from one department to another? Literally break down the wall between them and put them in the same room.
  • Does your sales team spend 20% of their week filling out paperwork? Start using electronic signatures.
  • Is there a lag time between when a customer signs a contract and they are onboarded? Automate the onboarding process with digital workflows.

The idea of giving employees more autonomy may feel a little scary at first, but it’s likely the key to increased productivity and decreased stress levels and burnout. When people understand their role in delivering the end goal and are allowed to work together in a manner that suits them, they will feel their contributions are valued. Additionally, as cooperation evolves employees will actually require fewer resources to accomplish their tasks.

In conclusion, before you start looking for ways to make things easier, better, or faster with new processes or technologies, make sure to ask yourself why you’re even doing it in the first place. Integrate your software programs into how people work best, not just what’s on the list of native integrations.

For more examples of workflows that actually make things better, check out the HelloSign case study with SimplyInsured.

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