Productivity paranoia is not the answer but the numbers are worrying

by Vivian Diep in November 4th, 2022
empty black rolling chairs at cubicles

Sharpest Productivity Dip In U.S. since 40s

Mon Oct 31

Productivity (measured as output per hour of labor) plunged dramatically in 2022 from highs in 2021 and everyone is scratching their heads. Economists are worried because productivity slowing means economic growth does as well, and that could start a cycle of increased cost of goods and services, a lower quality of life, fewer opportunities, movement of ideas out of the country, and further contraction of the economy.

Some experts say this is the world returning to more normal (pre-pandemic) levels, but cannot yet pinpoint why productivity is low. .There are just too many factors:

  • Interest rates are continuing to rise, putting a damper on economic activity.
  • Supply chain snarls and war in Ukraine could be affecting output. .
  • Job market whiplash may have broken the link between hard work and reward, as workers went from callously laid off to highly sought after (with new hires making far more than established ones).
  • High employee churn from the wild job market means output and quality of service suffers until new employees get up to speed. Meanwhile established employees may be overworked in an attempt to compensate.
  • High burnout, possibly from overworking during the pandemic, is leaving employees disengaged and cynical. One global survey of 20,000+ employees from 15 countries reported 50% of employees and 53% of managers felt burned out.
  • Remote, hybrid work and the future of the office is still being ironed out. Some claim remote work removes the unmeasurable productivity from in-person, informal interactions such chatting around the water cooler.

Productivity is crucial to improving our standard of living so concern is valid, but experts warn against “productivity paranoia” — a term coined by Microsoft’s CEO to describe employers’ anxieties over possible idle employees. The paranoia has resulted in what employees have called toxic, demoralizing, and humiliating micromanagement through productivity monitoring (spying) and tedious paperwork for any unmonitored, offline work. Employees (from all salary grades) are left not only possibly underpaid but demotivated by the lack of trust and extra busywork. Productivity paranoia does not get results, it just generates a lot of activity.

The U.S. is hardly alone in this experience, too, with the U.K., Canada, France, and Germany also reporting lower productivity levels. One study also projects that China and India will become the world’s leading economies, depending on China’s economic policies and U.S. immigration policy and productivity growth. If the U.S. increased legal immigration by 28%, the labor force could grow by 23% or more, bolstering economic growth.


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Burnout is a tough problem and while a professional coach or therapist can be personally helpful, here is a general resource to better understand the problem, its prevention, and recovery from it. If you’re a manager, learn more about what you can do to prevent your own burnout and what you can do for your team.


  • The Washington Post: Productivity Plunge Confusion 5 days old | 7 minutes long
  • NYTimes: Problems of Productivity Tracking 2 months old | 18 minutes long
  • NPR: Worker Whiplash 10 days old | 9 minutes long
  • NYTimes: More Jobs, Lower Output? 3 months old | 5 minutes long
  • Mint: Employees Burned Out 6 days old | 3 minutes long
  • Forbes: Productivity Paranoia 2 days old | 5 minutes long
  • Business Insider: Too New to be Productive 9 days old | 4 minutes long
  • Forbes: Will China & India Be On Top? 3 days old | 6 minutes long


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 Feeling short (tempered)? Unwind with a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea. 
 Art Credit: Morfina

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