In the corporate world, managers bridge the gap between executives and upper management. Managers are often responsible for breaking down company goals into actionable projects and enforcing them through their teams. Hence, their job role comes with a lot of pressure to meet targets and deadlines, which requires optimal performance of the team. This can sometimes result in productivity paranoia.
With remote work, it has become increasingly difficult for managers to keep a tab on their employee’s productivity. The constant worry around whether an employee is working as required when they’re not physically present in the office is known as productivity paranoia. In this blog, we’ll discuss why this paranoia has come into existence recently, its symptoms and causes, and how you can deal with it.
What is productivity paranoia?
Productivity refers to the efficiency with which an employee works, often resulting in a higher output of work. Employee productivity is a significant contributor to the overall performance of the team and company. When there are issues with performance, it can result in financial losses, damaged relationships with customers, and stagnation of company growth.
For ages, managers have relied on physical oversight to keep track of their employee’s performance. When the employees are not visible in front of the managers, they may start doubting their work ethic and productivity. This is known as productivity paranoia, a term popularized during the COVID-19 pandemic when offices started switching to hybrid and remote work.
Traditionally, the term ‘paranoia’ is used to describe unwarranted and irrational suspicion of others. When you are paranoid, you feel like you’re being deceived and conspired against even though you don’t have the proof to back this claim. Paranoia is usually associated with underlying mental illnesses. However, in the context of productivity paranoia, the usage of this term is more colloquial and does not indicate a psychiatric condition.
Since this feeling is a form of paranoia, it is important to note that the doubt is arising not out of any particular action of the employee but because of the manager’s own past experience and insecurities.
One way in which this productivity paranoia manifests is through the use of technologies such as tracking software, surveillance cameras, and GPS data to monitor the employees’ whereabouts by their managers and companies.
Investing in expensive technologies to keep a close track of employees, even at the cost of their well-being, can make them more distrustful of the manager and less loyal to the company.
Symptoms of productivity paranoia
If you have productivity paranoia, your symptoms will show up in the form of certain attitudes and behaviors reflecting unwarranted concern for your employees when they’re not working in front of you. Some symptoms to look within yourself are:
- Not only do you constantly check on your employee’s work, but you also have solid monitoring systems in place to keep track of them. You get really anxious when they do not respond immediately, feeling that they’re not working.
- You set unreasonable goals and deadlines for your employees because you’re assuming that they aren’t working hard enough.
- You’re unable to delegate work because you fear that since you can’t overlook it, it won’t meet your standards. On the other hand, you micromanage them to get your desired output.
- You’re focusing only on the quantity part of their performance, not giving enough importance to the quality of their work.
While these are some behaviors your productivity paranoia might be manifesting in, your employees may also have certain reactions to it, such as:
- They don’t trust you due to the stringent monitoring you subject them to. Their motivation and productivity have decreased further; they’re disengaged from their work and spending more time on reporting activities.
- Due to the unrealistic expectations on them, they’re feeling stressed and anxious, which may lead to burnout.
- Your turnover rate has increased owing to the experiences of employees mentioned above.
What are the causes of productivity paranoia?
Productivity paranoia can be a result of a combination of psychological, organizational, and environmental factors.
- You fear that if you can’t see the employees, they may be slacking off and that if they do not have you to overlook them, they won’t be keeping themselves in check. This may come from a place of perfectionist tendencies and a deep-rooted need for control.
- You may be projecting either your own stress and anxiety or the feelings of inadequacy and unproductiveness you have about yourself on your team.
- In the past, you have experienced failure and negative consequences due to the underperformance of a team.
- Your company culture may be such that productivity is overemphasized, rewarding only high output and penalizing any slights in performance, leaving not much room for employees to be humans. Hence, as a manager, you need to be even more cautious about the team output.
- You have not been given adequate training or support to manage your team and work, making you more anxious about the team’s performance as you feel it reflects directly on you.
- You have not communicated clearly to the employees about what’s expected of them, hence there are misunderstandings.
- You haven’t been provided with adequate tools to manage your remote team, which has you anxious about their productivity.
Environmentally, it may have been difficult for you to adapt to the new way of working, i.e., digitally and remotely, which makes you feel uncertain in general. Economic and market pressures and global events such as the pandemic can add to your stress and disrupt the way you work normally.
How to deal with productivity paranoia
If you identify most with the psychological factors contributing to your productivity paranoia, you must begin to overcome it through self-awareness. Reflect on whether you micromanage your team and if this need for control extends to other parts of your life, if you recognize progress or only focus on what’s not great that could have been, and if you see your team’s setbacks as your own personal shortcomings. A therapist can provide you with the right tools and strategies to deal with your fears and have a better management style.
At your company, you can discuss your observations related to the culture and suggest shifting emphasis solely from results achieved to the amount of time spent and the well-being of employees. Actively try to create trust and respect within your team, and give and receive regular feedback to ensure everyone is on the same page about the performance of the team. 
Keep an open mind while adjusting to the new way of working- reevaluate your expectations to be more realistic, and use technology to get more work done rather than monitor your team to the point of breaching their privacy.
Productivity paranoia can reduce the quality and output of work by your team even further. It is important to understand how your fears, the organizational culture, and the stressors from your environment are contributing to this paranoia. Self-reflection, clear communication, and patience can help you overcome it. Book a session with one of our mental health experts, who can help you cope better with your productivity paranoia.
At United We Care, we offer the most appropriate, clinically backed solutions for all your well-being needs.
 Pamela Mayor, “Four Ways to Build a Culture of Honesty and Avoid ‘Productivity Paranoia,'” in MIT Sloan Management Review, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.proquest.com/openview/4356f96dda2e7db16dcb0d1b6d846fb7/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=26142. Accessed on: Nov. 17, 2023
 Blumenfeld, S., Anderson, G., & Hooper, V. (2020). COVID-19 and employee surveillance. New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations, 45(2), 42–56. https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.776994919627731. Accessed on: Nov. 17, 2023
 K. Subramanian, “Organizational Paranoia and the Consequent Dysfunction,” 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Kalpathy-Subramanian/publication/322223468_ORGANIZATIONAL_PARANOIA_AND_THE_CONSEQUENT_DYSFUNCTION/links/5a4ca4d8458515a6bc6ced26/ORGANIZATIONAL-PARANOIA-AND-THE-CONSEQUENT-DYSFUNCTION.pdf. Accessed on: Nov. 17, 2023