We hoped the pandemic would eliminate the urge for work long hours and alleviate our productivity guilt. But our behavior has only shifted from the physical to the online space. Here is how data can help you discourage presenteeism and productivity pressures. 

Last year, researchers at Atlassian proved that the number of hours worked in 2020 for the average employee increased by more than half an hour. We answered emails and messages, tracked tasks in Jira, and logged into Confluence outside of our regular work hours. We started work earlier and finished later. And this was not just a local trend – Atlassian researchers gathered findings from 65 countries. 

Several reasons explain such behavior, and one of them is undoubtedly the “who works the most” race. Before the pandemic, employees showed their commitment by spending more time at their physical desks in the office. Now, they have switched to online communicators and make sure that the word “available” is always visible with their name. 

The idea is, “If everyone is still working, then I have to do this too.” Before the pandemic, some companies had an unofficial policy of “you do not leave before your boss.” But even during the lockdown, 54% of UK workers felt obliged to physically come to the office – especially those in early and mid-career. 

Source: Atlassian

The urge for presenteeism

This urge for presenteeism has been around for years. It intensifies during times of instability – such as a Covid 19 pandemic. When employees fear for the stability of their jobs, they want to prove their worth. And their supervisors still tend to favor those “who have the time to show up early and leave late.”

“Some employees use this strategy because they think greater “visibility” will lead to a faster promotion,” says Daniel Aduszkiewicz, CEO and Co-Founder of Human Panel. Aduszkiewicz adds that we have over 200 different biases as humans, one of which is the “exposure effect.” If you see a person ten times a day, you will naturally like them more.

Another bias is the “halo effect,” which means that you associate positive impressions of someone with their actual character. “If someone brings you coffee every day and asks you about your plans for the weekend, you are more likely to think he or she is a hard worker, too,” adds Leigh Thompson, professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business, US. 

Yet presenteeism can have some positive effects. For those just starting in their careers, spending time with more experienced colleagues can bring certain benefits. “Being part of conversations with others and being exposed to others’ projects and initiatives helps to learn and understand things better,” Daniel Aduszkiewicz comments. 

An easy path to a burnout

But the drive for increased productivity and constantly “being at work” can lead to feelings of guilt. We naturally believe we have the skills to take on more and more and feel the need to justify how we use our time. But when we put too much pressure on ourselves, it’s an easy path to a burnout. 

So what can you do to avoid productivity guilt yourself and keep your employees from experiencing it? There are two essential steps you can take. 

1. Look into the data

The first thing you can do is look at the raw performance data of your workforce provided by people analytics. What are your teams working on? Are they working long hours to achieve their goals? Are they delivering the expected results? 

“A detailed data analysis and the right questions will give you an overview of the state of your workforce and projects. If you notice that a team is not meeting goals despite working long hours, you will respond adequately. You will be able to understand the causes of these inefficiencies and make the right decision,” says Daniel Aduszkiewicz.

Also, people analytics will show you who got a promotion or a raise. This way, you can eliminate personal biases that influence employee decisions. Maybe a single mom who always leaves early is just as productive as someone who stays late to be “available” on Slack? 

2. Give an example

The other solution to a potential productivity debt is to model healthy behavior. If you are a manager, you should set an example for your team. As soon as you finish your work, leave. Log off. Do not be chained to your desk and computer. Employees who work long hours usually pressure others to do the same, which leads to a vicious circle.

It might be challenging because managers and bosses have their bosses, too – and might themselves be under pressure to be productive and always present. But do not let yourself become a slave to presenteeism and imagined expectations. When in doubt, look at the data again. People analytics will show you how to work smarter, not harder, and help you build a productive and happy workforce.

If you want to see the real power of people analytics, sign up for a free demo of Human Panel HR management platform. We’ll be most happy to help you figure out how to support your HR decisions with data.

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