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How productivity tracking can empower employees

It’s important to know what your workforce is actually doing, yet many employees balk at being monitored. But if monitoring is done right, employees benefit.

Do you know how your employees spend their time at work and how productive they are? If you’re in the dark, you’re not alone.

A recent PwC survey of senior executives from 150 financial institutions around the world highlighted how few of them systematically track their employees. It can be assumed that the same is true in many other industries.

This is a big missed opportunity. Without information and workflow analysis, you can’t see where you might be able to conserve or redirect resources. For example, according to one study, office workers said they manage to squeeze just about three productive hours out of an eight-hour workday. Time tracking could improve workers’ focus by motivating them to minimize nonproductive activities such as meetings and breaks.

But tracking is likely to be met with wariness and even resistance from employees. Some will see it as a threat to their jobs. Others might view it as an affront to their status. And many might not feel free to experiment and risk failure, knowing that someone is watching their every move. But if set up and run well, monitoring can boost achievement, recognition, and career development in a way that empowers employees instead of oppressing or penalizing them. So, what’s the secret to getting your people onboard with productivity tracking?

If set up and run well, monitoring can boost achievement, recognition, and career development in a way that empowers employees instead of oppressing or penalizing them.

Make sure you measure the right things. Different functions require different metrics (e.g., back office versus sales or client advisory). Your tracking needs to reflect the fact that value might be defined and delivered in unique ways in the various areas of your business. To ensure relevance and objectivity, it’s important to measure against defined task catalogues, setting out the responsibilities for each role.

Be transparent about what you’re doing. Secretly surveilling your employees isn’t best for them or for you. You’ll lose their trust and the positive effects of a system in which they know they’re being held accountable. So, before you start tracking, explain to your employees what your business objectives are, what data you’ll be collecting, how you’ll collect it, and how it’ll be used. Invite questions and listen to any anxieties and address them head-on. If you don’t, concerns can fester. You also risk creating a vacuum that your employees will inevitably fill with rumor and disinformation.

Accentuate the positives. Productivity metrics offer a truly objective way to recognize and reward performance. Broadcast this message to employees. Also emphasize that like a fitness tracker, a measurement system doesn’t have to just record activity. It also can encourage people to think about how to raise their game, while providing the data that will help them work toward their goals. Objective measurement also helps recognize quiet achievers, who get things done but don’t always get credit. And although people are likely to be concerned that jobs could be at stake — and in fact poor performers may have to go — remaining staff might be relieved that they no longer have to carry these individuals.

Help everyone to keep perspective. One danger in rigorous productivity tracking is that employees might focus on it at the expense of other equally or even more important objectives, such as collaboration, up-skilling, or mentoring and development. People might be hesitant to try working in new ways or take risks for fear that it will affect their output. So, remind everyone of your overarching mission and goals and create a balanced scorecard to evaluate performance.

Depersonalize it. Employees could be skittish about being personally scrutinized or fear that they’ll be individually targeted or blamed for productivity problems that they see as being out of their control. Acknowledge that not all productivity issues are the result of personal shortcomings, and invite your employees to become part of a team effort to identify other sources of inefficiency, such as needless meetings or insufficient training on certain tasks. There might be problems endemic to entire teams, too. For example, a financial-services organization that tracks how employees are spending their time might find that a disproportionate amount of that time is going to low-value accounts and be able to redirect those hours to top accounts.

If you keep all of these objectives in mind, implementing a system to measure productivity at your company will go more smoothly. Metrics will give you data that can help you form questions (e.g., why skilled people are doing so much low-value work), and from there you can seek answers (e.g., how to get those tasks done by more appropriate people). As the positive effects of tracking come to the fore, you’ll find that your employees fixate less on the measurement itself and more on how to make the most of what you all learn.

John Garvey

John Garvey is PwC's global financial-services leader. He is a principal with PwC US, based in New York.

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