Productivity Paranoia: What Is It & How Can You Feel Better At Work?

Since the pandemic caused global shutdowns back in 2020, the prevalence of remote and hybrid work has skyrocketed. Working from home has many perks — less overhead for businesses that no longer need to rent office space, decreased stress from commuting, and more flexible schedules, for a start — but it also has a few downsides that are unique to this relatively new phenomenon: namely, productivity paranoia. 


According to Apollo Technical, recent studies show that people working from home are actually significantly more productive than those in the office, often spending less time distracted by other tasks and working more days a week. Despite the data, however, managers are grappling with the fact that they feel they have less ability to control and supervise those working beneath them. Because of this, many are attempting to closely monitor their employees' behavior in order to dissuade them from slacking off during the work day, leading to an increased feeling of paranoia on both sides of the screen. We took a closer look at how this situation affects everyone in the work-from-home environment and how you can help avoid that paranoia, no matter what your role in your workplace.


What is productivity paranoia?

Productivity paranoia refers to a phenomenon that affects both higher-ups and average workers. In a traditional office environment, managers have the ability to walk around and check in on the work of their employees. Even if they're not actively surveying what people are doing at their desks, there is a general expectation of consistent productive behavior. If your boss and other coworkers are right around the corner, you might briefly check your phone, but it's unlikely you'll prop up your feet and get lost in a TikTok rabbit hole on the clock.


But in a remote environment, employers have less ability to see exactly what's going on at their employees' workspaces, so they look for ways to monitor activity levels beyond completing tasks on time. The result is an endless stream of meetings, emails, and communication far beyond what would occur in the office. Because of this, employees often feel pressured to reply to messages immediately — even outside of their allotted work hours — to prove they're not slacking on the job. Unsurprisingly, this doesn't exactly create an environment of trusting collaboration and can lead to higher stress levels for everyone involved.

How it impacts managers

The paranoia aspect of productivity paranoia primarily affects managers and higher-ups. Because they can't see exactly what their team is doing at any given time, it's easy to assume that they're slacking off, away from their desk, or not working at their highest possible productivity. Remote work takes trust and clearly stated expectations, so if a leader is lacking one or both of those things, it's a surefire way to begin spiraling and assuming the worst of their employees — often leading to the desire to exert increasing control over every aspect of their work and their time.


Being concerned about productivity is natural and the mark of a good manager — after all, it is the bulk of the job — but an obsession with what your employees are doing at every moment can create an inhospitable environment and unnecessary stress on both sides. Concern and genuinely caring about the job are positive things in the correct dosage, but productivity paranoia develops out of pushing that level of care to the extreme.

How it impacts workers

If your boss is experiencing productivity paranoia, it's likely heavily impacting you as a worker as well. It can cause an unnecessarily increased workload in the form of constant emails and meetings, a feeling that you have to constantly show that you're working, and a general decrease in confidence — both in your leadership and in your own performance. A lack of trust on behalf of the manager can be a major hit to employees' self-esteem, especially if that distrust and paranoia are completely unfounded. As a result, you may feel that you have to go above and beyond to prove your productivity, always wondering, "Am I doing enough?"


Another well-known issue with remote work is that it blurs the line between personal time and office time. Because there's no physical marker of leaving the office, there's no "clocking out" during the day, and productivity paranoia worsens this phenomenon. It can make employees feel like they have to be constantly available and excited about the position, even during hours they're not technically on the clock. Unfortunately, that can quickly lead to burnout and actually decrease their productivity and quality of work, according to Apollo Technical.

How to prevent productivity paranoia as a manager

Preventing productivity paranoia comes down to two things: clear expectations and trust. In the office, it might be common for employees to work on projects for days or weeks at a time without having to provide much evidence of their progress, but remote work is different. If your paranoia is stemming from the fear that your employees won't meet deadlines, consider implementing a system of daily or weekly scheduled check-ins so you can get a good idea of where everyone is. This way, you'll feel more confident in their progress, and employees will know exactly what is expected of them.


The most important ingredient in this situation, however, is trust. These employees were hired because they were qualified for the position, and if they're consistently meeting expectations, there's no reason to believe that they'll suddenly lose their steam now. If you have a genuine issue with an employee's output and fear they're slacking off during the workday, communicate with them directly instead of allowing yourself to spiral.

How to prevent productivity paranoia as a worker

Working from home with a manager that's struggling with productivity paranoia can be quite frustrating and stressful, but there are a few things you can do as an employee to help ease the tension. First, check in more frequently. At the beginning or end of your day, consider sending your manager a brief message or email summarizing your progress. This can help them feel a bit more confident in where you sit with your work and could decrease the number of unnecessary messages you get after hours or while you're trying to get things done.


If you feel that they're still infringing on your personal time, however, this can be a bit more of a difficult situation to tackle. In this scenario, it's important to clearly set boundaries and reiterate what hours you're available. It can also be helpful to delete your work-related apps off of your phone and only handle business matters when you're expected to be "in office." It might seem a bit harsh, but if your boss is expecting you to be available 24/7, they should have been clear about that expectation from the start and ready to compensate you for your extra time.