Why Are Employees Addicted To False Productivity?


People get addicted, by definition, trying to boost their dopamine levels, and feel more satisfied and happier, at least for a while. This is why employees prefer focusing on easy-to-complete tasks that offer the instant gratification they crave. By doing this repeatedly they unintentionally fall into the trap of false productivity.

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People get addicted, by definition, trying to boost their dopamine levels, and feel more satisfied and happier, at least for a while.

The same definition can be applied to the way many employees approach their work. Everybody wants to be highly productive, gaining a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at the end of the work day.

This is why employees prefer focusing on easy-to-complete tasks that offer the instant gratification they crave. By doing this repeatedly they unintentionally fall into the trap of false productivity.

What Is False Productivity?

Simply put, false productivity is the act of appearing to be doing something without really working towards or accomplishing a goal. You might have also heard this referred to as “busy work“.

Employees fill their work hours with meetings and handling emails, ticking off low-value tasks that neither contribute to reaching key goals nor leave them time to focus on completing complex tasks and projects.

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Luckily, managers nowadays can use employee tracker data to help their employees break this habit that may ruin their performance. Advanced employee monitoring data can show you how your employees spend every moment at work and recognize the patterns in their behavior that may lead to false productivity.

When you have sufficient data, you can focus on the factors that drive false productivity and use this insightful monitoring information to redistribute employees’ workloads and prioritize their tasks to effectively fight this issue.

There are three main reasons why employees can easily get addicted to false productivity: completion bias, random rewards and  the rule of reciprocation and we’ll look at each of these in greater detail below.

Completion Bias

Employees who prefer handling easy day-to-day tasks over committing to more demanding projects are susceptible to completion bias. Because they get a dopamine boost and a feeling of satisfaction upon completion of any task no matter how small and insignificant it may be.

If you have employees that jump to answer every incoming email or Slack message, they may be addicted to completion bias.

The problem is that minor tasks don’t add value to employees’ performance or outcomes. Quite the contrary, they can distract them from finishing significant projects and affect their productivity.

Here are several steps you can take to help your employees become really productive and abandon practices that give them only the illusion of efficiency:

  • Analyze employee monitoring data to identify tasks and apps or websites that consume most of your employees’ time.
  • Prioritize their tasks, helping them to focus on the most significant ones.
  • Use software for employee monitoring to keep track of employees’ progress.

Random Rewards

Let’s be honest: Everyone loves to be praised and see their efforts recognized. And employees’ inboxes can be an inexhaustible source of much-needed instant gratification.

Emails filled with gratitude and recognition from clients or co-workers can be highly addictive, driving your employees to check their inboxes constantly seeking the much-needed dose of positive reinforcement and praise.

Frequent context switching may shatter their focus, deterring them from finishing major tasks and projects.

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Here’s what you can do to quench your employees’ thirst for random rewards and get them back on track:

  • Employee monitoring software can be a reliable ally in battling workplace distractions.
  • Use this detailed insight into your employees’ workflow to see whether they check their emails more than necessary.
  • Encourage the employee to turn of notifications, or only to check emails during set hour so they can batch process them at a more suitable time
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Then, you can apply some of the well-known time management techniques like time blocking or time boxing to help them break this habit and shift their focus to meaningful work.

  • Try replacing random rewards with genuine ones.
  • Embrace the practice of continual recognition by dedicating a Slack channel to celebrating team members’ success or reaching significant career milestones.
  • Think about introducing an employee recognition program
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More importantly, never miss the opportunity to reward someone for outstanding performance either by promotion or a pay raise. When employees know that their efforts will be appreciated and rewarded, they’ll stop chasing random rewards to boost their self-esteem.

The Rule of Reciprocation

This rule is a powerful social mechanism. It urges people to return a favor immediately. When someone does or says something nice, you feel compelled to answer right away.

This is how the rule of reciprocation works. You might be wondering how this could affect your employee’s productivity – they’re just being polite, right?

Well, your employees may feel an urgent need to answer every direct message or incoming email immediately no matter what they’re doing or what other priorities they may have.

This bad habit will ruin their focus making them unproductive in the long run, or take them away from things they should currently be working on, even though they may feel like they’re doing their job and getting things done.

Here are two effective ways to limit the negative effects of the rule of reciprocation:

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  • You can track the time employees spend on different communication channels and optimize cross-team communication.
  • Try to foster asynchronous communication by stating clearly that you don’t expect your employees to reply to every message or email instantly. This will ease the pressure and eliminate the need for immediate reciprocation.
  • Think about instituting things like designated times that people check and respond to emails, limiting the number of notifications people receive and asking people to indicate if something is urgent so only these messages get responded to when they are received.

Final Thoughts

Some employees may find the idea of monitoring meaning their company is turning into “big brother” so it’s important to communicate what you will be tracking, when you will be tracking, why you are tracking and what you are going to do with this information.

Being open and honest to your employees will foster trust between them and management and they will be much happier to be monitored if they know that there is not a sinister reason behind it. Make sure you let them know there will be benefits to them as well, not just to the company’s productivity levels and bottom line.

Do you use employee monitoring or time tracking software? Does your employer monitor your time? Is it worth it? How do you feel about it? Let us know in the comments below.

About The Author
Dijana Milunovic is a Content Writer at Insightful. She enjoys writing about employee productivity and engagement, company culture, and leadership.
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