Low-productivity workers may be costing your company up to 48k a year.

Employees everywhere are struggling with the weight of a new workplace standard, some more than others. If those struggles (and their performance) go unchecked, it may not only cost companies money but talent.

New data from software application Prodoscore found that 11.7% of employees across 140 organizations surveyed had low-productivity ratings, some of which have been so negatively impacted by that pandemic that they’re active for as little as 90 minutes per day, wasting $48,000 of a $60,000 annual salary.

Of the employees falling into the bottom percentile of producers, the majority were already teetering on the productivity scale, according to David Powell, President of Prodoscore.

“If you were [already] a low-productivity worker around March and April of last year when you went home,” he says, “that just fell off a cliff.”

Employees who are considered average or high performers — 72.7% and 16.1% of workers, respectively — have shown a level of consistency in line with overall pandemic trends, which have largely seen productivity improve since the implementation of work from home. In fact, not only have the majority of workers shown preference for remote settings, 41% are getting their work done in fewer hours per week than when they worked in the office, a survey by Nintex found.

But for unproductive employees, the absence of an office translated to an absence of accountability, Powell says, with little tracking or reporting of completed work.

“[The office] kept them at a low level, but a consistently low level,” he says. “As soon as they went home and that accountability went away their productivity really went down.”

Breaks or dips in productivity at work have become part of the new normal. Forty-two percent of employees have been on a date at least once during the workday, 76% of women shop online during work at least once a week and 56% of millennials have taken a personal day without telling a manager, according to a survey by online retailer E-conolight.

But those dips and breaks will not stunt a company’s overall success, according to Adrian Reece, PRC Principal Statistical Consultant and a doctoral student who helped research the data. If anything, it’s entirely normal.

“An average employee’s [productivity] score might dunk for a week or two before it bounces back,” he says. “But low-productivity employees’ scores will dip for about three and a half weeks before they start to bounce back — and you’ll have to wait about eight weeks before they get back to their average productivity.”

Therein lies the problem, says Powell. Because in those three and half weeks employees are being unproductive, combined with two months to get them back to an average level of work production, the burden to pick up the slack would fall on the employees’ more productive colleagues — and that’s when burnout becomes a very real threat.

“If [high productivity employees] feel like they’re filling in gaps and picking up slack, they might exit out of frustration while you’re spending time coaching that low productivity person,” Powell says. “The data’s hard: there’s a lot of investment that doesn’t have a ton of return.”

Employers should still feel compelled to try and reach their low-productivity employees, Powell concedes. An intervention followed by coaching and attentiveness is a good first step in mitigating the financial and emotional drain on the company and its employees. But when push comes to shove, are employers prepared to potentially sacrifice their top employees in the process?

“As we continue to go forward in this new kind of hybrid work environment,” Powell says, “We’re going to have to analyze how we identify, protect and nurture our top producers.”

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