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Productivity is a goal of all performance-minded teams, but there are limits where actions can stray into toxic productivity.

When you’re in charge of a team, there’s an expectation of productivity. You want your personnel to complete tasks, meet goals, and perform consistently. You may even track employee productivity using productivity tracking software to ensure that their performance is optimal. And this is perfectly okay. 

However, there is a fine line between peak performance and toxic productivity. At what point are your employees working too much? Despite your intentions, could you be creating an unhealthy and unproductive work culture in your organization? 

In this article, we’ll look at the causes of toxic productivity and how it can impact your team. We’ll also share actionable tips on how to measure employee productivity as well as how to improve team productivity in a way that avoids toxic productivity. 

What Is Toxic Productivity?

Toxic productivity refers to an unhealthy obsession with productivity, usually to the detriment of our other priorities. It’s the constant need to go above and beyond the call of duty, even when it’s not required. 

With toxic productivity, finishing a task in itself is not good enough. It’ll often leave you with a feeling of “I could have done more,” even if you’ve been obsessed with how to track employee productivity.

What Causes Toxic Productivity?

With the modern-day hustle culture, many put work above all else. They idolize the idea of working harder and exerting themselves, with long working hours and late nights being an indicator of success. 

To an extent, there is a degree of unspoken competition within this culture. Whenever you’re taking a break from work, you may feel that someone else out there is at peak productivity. This breeds a society where toxic productivity starts to feel normal.  

And, of course, we can’t ignore the role of the pandemic in distorting our work ethic. For instance, you may have noticed that it’s much easier to put in extra hours when you’re working from home. Perhaps you’ve even found yourself completing quick work-related tasks, such as checking emails, during your downtime.

Working remotely over the last year has resulted in a blurred line between personal and work time for many people. And while we do need to retain our efficiency, we must be more cautious to avoid tipping over to toxic productivity. 

How Does Toxic Productivity Impact Employees?

If you’re in charge of a large team, your energy will spread to your team members and impact their actions. For example, if you’re constantly overusing productivity tracking software, employees will be under pressure to stay productive at all times. 

So, how does toxic productivity affect our personnel? Toxic productivity can be taxing on both physical and mental health. In a bid to do more, personnel will often sacrifice sleep, exercise, healthy meals, and downtime.  

The result? Burnout and fatigue. This can build up to even more serious issues such as chronic stress, depression, and anxiety over time. 

Working too much can also be detrimental to personal relationships. For instance, spouses and friends may feel that they’re not getting enough time or attention.

Toxic productivity has a negative impact on self-esteem. Team members may tie their sense of self-worth to how productive they are at work. This can lead to feelings of guilt and failure if they’re not constantly productive. 

How to Avoid Toxic Productivity

How can we avoid toxic productivity without sacrificing excellent performance from our team members? Here are a few pointers to help you achieve this delicate balance. 

1. Don’t Misuse the Power Software Gives You

In this age, technology and employee productivity are greatly intertwined. Productivity tracking software has made it easier than ever to watch and/or manage the activities of your team members.

However, when overdone, tracking employee productivity can quickly turn into micromanaging and pile pressure on your personnel. So while it’s a great idea to use work productivity monitoring software, you should be careful not to abuse your team productivity app.

2. Avoid Contacting Team Members After Hours or on Weekends

Employees who are able to relax and disconnect from work outside normal working hours experience lower levels of fatigue and job burnout. 

Therefore, it’s essential that we avoid sending emails, messages, or making phone calls to team members when they’re off the job. 

3. Create a Culture That Values Both Self-Care and Work Ethic

How do you improve team productivity in your organization? Surprisingly, a pro-break culture can help boost the performance of your staff. Despite the often mistaken belief, chaining yourself  to a desk for 12 hours straight does not equal increased productivity. 

For instance, a short break from work during lunchtime, plus regular brief periods of respite during the rest of the day, will result in a fresh and rejuvenated team. Rejuvenated employees are usually more productive and creative. 

4. Constantly Ask if Goals Are Realistic

In our pursuit of optimal performance from our teams, we may unknowingly set overly ambitious goals. There are two possible outcomes when this happens. One, the employees consistently fail to achieve said goals; and, two, you may notice a dip in the quality of work.   

If this is the case in your organization, it may be time to evaluate targets and determine if they’re attainable.

5. Measure Individual Performance Based on Output Rather Than Hours 

How do you measure employee productivity? Hours clocked or the employee’s output?

According to a study from Stanford University, there is a steep decline in productivity once an individual works for more than 50 hours per week. There is a dramatic drop after 55 hours, and working past this point is essentially pointless. 

Longer hours are not always an indication of increased productivity. Therefore, when considering tools to measure employee productivity, ensure an emphasis on output rather than hours clocked. 

7. Have an “Only as a Last Resort” Policy on Meetings

Meetings are one of the best team-building tools -- if done well. They help keep members in sync and can help staff feel valued and appreciated. 

However, meetings can also be unnecessary, a distraction, and a waste of time. This happens when staff members call meetings just to feel productive. To avoid such situations, you can discourage meetings unless absolutely necessary.

8. Watch Out for Signs of Burnout

Burnout manifests in several ways, including exhaustion, irritability, reduced performance and productivity, lack of motivation, and increased frustration and cynicism. 

You must have a system in place to help identify such symptoms in your employees. You also need to develop a clear plan on how to proceed once you’ve spotted these indicators. 

The Bottom Line

Toxic productivity impacts not only employees but also the organization. Putting work above all else may feel effective in the moment, but not in the long run. 

As a team manager, you can cultivate a culture of optimal productivity while encouraging self-care. Productivity enhancement tools and productivity tracking software can be instrumental in achieving this goal by helping you track employee productivity. 

Remember, we don’t have to be unhealthy to be successful. 

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