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Productivity Tracking: What it is, Benefits & Pitfalls

Using employee monitoring tools to track productivity has merit, but at the cost of employee morale.

Mallory Herrin, SPHR, SHRM-CP, CPLC
CEO and Principal HR Consultant at HerrinHR with 18 years of HR and Employee Services experience
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Worker productivity is a critical factor in the success of any business. The ability of employees to complete tasks efficiently and effectively can directly impact a company's bottom line. As such, it is not surprising that many companies are turning to productivity tracking and monitoring tools as a means of optimizing their workforce.

However, while productivity tracking can help identify areas where employees can improve, it is not without its challenges. Some employees may feel that their privacy is being invaded, while others may feel micromanaged, leading to lower morale and decreased productivity.

Furthermore, it is essential to understand that real productivity is not just about working long hours or completing a high volume of tasks. Employee productivity statistics show that true productivity is about working smarter, not harder, and delivering high-quality work that meets the needs of the business. Therefore, it is important to explore whether there is real value in tracking employee productivity and how it can be done effectively and ethically.

In This Article

A manager recognizing an employee's productivity at a performance management meeting.

What is Productivity Tracking?

Employee productivity tracking is the process of measuring and analyzing employee work output, including the number of tasks completed, the time taken to complete them, and the quality of the results.

The intended purpose of using a productivity tracker or monitoring tool is to optimize workforce planning, identify areas where employees can improve, and measure progress toward specific goals. By tracking productivity, businesses can identify patterns in employee work output, assess the effectiveness of their workforce, and identify areas where resources can be better allocated.

However, it is important to ensure that productivity tracking is done in a way that does not compromise employee privacy or lead to discrimination.

The Methodology of Productivity Tracking

There are several methodologies for productivity tracking, including time tracking, performance management, and employee monitoring.

  • Time tracking involves tracking the amount of time employees spend on specific tasks, allowing managers to ensure that employees are working the required number of hours and optimize scheduling. Depending on the organizational need, time and attendance system features can be used to see how many hours employees are at work or online, or can be applied more granularly to track time an employee spends on a specific task.
  • Performance management involves setting goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) for employees, tracking their progress, providing feedback, and identifying areas where they can improve.
  • Employee productivity monitoring involves real-time monitoring of employee activities, such as keystrokes, mouse clicks, and website visits, to identify areas where employees may be wasting time or engaging in non-work-related activities. These tools are also capable of taking screenshots at random intervals so that managers can see what team members are busy with, and sending notifications if it detects time theft (for example, if the employee is browsing social media).
  • Collaboration platforms like Asana, Monday.com, Slack, and Trello are also valuable productivity tools. Because these task manager platforms make everyone in the organization’s priorities and deadlines transparent, there is greater accountability all around. These tools are especially useful for remote teams who depend on workflow information to be shareable.

The Pitfalls of Productivity Tracking

As much as employers need to know what the capacity and the actual output of employees are, using a productivity tracking tool has its downsides.

Employees Duping Productivity Tracking Tools

One of the main pitfalls of using productivity monitoring software is the potential for employees to use workaround tricks.

These would be means to make it appear as if they are more productive than they actually are. For example, an employee may click on a spreadsheet or document every few minutes to give the appearance of being busy, even if they are not actually working on the task. This skews the data in productivity reports generated by the tool, making it difficult for managers to accurately assess employee productivity. As a result, inflated productivity data may lead to incorrect assumptions and poor decision-making.

There are even tools that simulate mouse movement, specifically designed to mislead the monitoring software into logging more work activity.

A frustrated employee holding her head while working.

The Impact of Productivity Tracking on Employee Morale

Employees who are monitored by productivity tracking tools may feel that their privacy is being invaded and that they are constantly being watched, leading to decreased morale and motivation.

Furthermore, if the metrics and tools used for productivity tracking are perceived as unfair or arbitrary, this can lead to resentment and distrust among employees. Ultimately, when this feeling is present among your team, the benefits of employee monitoring are largely overshadowed by the impact to your culture (discussed later in this article), resulting in a decrease in productivity.

Managing Time Allocation Also Requires Employee Time

If employees are expected to log the time spent on various tasks, thereby declaring what they spent their day on, their workflow gets disrupted.

Employees who work on multiple projects and have a range of small tasks can’t always account for every minute or allocate their work time in unique buckets. Inevitably the time that they do log is an estimation, and the very task of estimating and logging their hours may take working hours out of their week.

In a scenario where employee time allocation affects billable hours and invoicing, knowing the exact amount of time spent per task is essential. If this is not the case, managers must ask themselves if meticulous time logging serves a real organizational purpose.

What Is Real Productivity?

Real productivity is not simply about being at work, checking off a list of tasks. Instead, it is about working smarter, not harder— producing high-quality deliverables, creative innovations, and work that meets the needs of the business and drives it forward.

Therefore, it is essential to use the right productivity metrics and tools that align with business objectives and take into account the specific needs and goals of the organization. It is also important to consider the potential impact on employee well-being when implementing productivity tracking.

That being said, removing barriers to productivity from an employee’s day has immense value.

An employee smiling and happy with his level of productivity.

Benefits to Employees of Increasing Their Productivity

While productivity tracking can have its challenges, it is important to understand that it can also have significant benefits for employees, as well as the business as a whole.

  • Increasing quality output can lead to improved job security as an employee is viewed as a valuable asset to an organization. This, in turn, leads to opportunities for career growth and advancement.
  • Increased productivity can lead to increased job satisfaction and better work-life balance as tasks become mastered and streamlined. Furthermore, by improving their time management, working smarter, and delivering high-quality work, employees can feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, which can further boost their morale and motivation.
An employee who is distracted from her work by browsing social media on her phone.

Removing Productivity Barriers

When individual or team productivity is low, the first step should be to identify the reason. Barriers to productivity can be operational, physical, or internal:

Examples of Operational Barriers to Employee Productivity

  • An employee must deliver monthly progress reports which include input from the finance department, but the financial information is not available by the time the report is due.
    Solve: Reviewing the reporting timeline so that the employee has access to the upstream information they need would solve this.
  • A sales team works off a customer database that is separate from the information marketing is capturing in the company’s customer relationship management tool (CRM), thereby creating a duplication of work and room for error in customer records.
    Solve: Productivity is optimized when multiple departments have access to a single source of truth. The customer data that the sales team needs should be readily available from the CRM. If the CRM does not offer the reporting the sales team needs, it might not be a good fit for the company.

Examples of Physical Barriers to Employee Productivity

  • A production team is expected to assemble X number of units by the end of the week, but the supplier of a part that they need is often late with delivery.
    Solve: If it is not possible to hold stock of the part, it is in the company’s best interest to switch suppliers.
  • A warehouse team is expected to pick, pack, and deliver X orders per day, but a bottleneck occurs with order preparation, causing delivery vehicles to stand idle while they wait to be loaded.
    Solve: It is important to establish a clear overall productivity pipeline so that no step in an organizational chain holds up another. If the capacity of one step creates a bottleneck, the ROI of getting more hands on deck is evident downstream.

Examples of Internal Barriers to Employee Productivity

  • A hiring team is expected to recruit, hire, and onboard X new employees per month. Because interviews are taking up the majority of their time, half of the offer letters are sent out late, making it impossible for the team to reach their KPI.
    Solve: Even exceptionally productive individuals have limited hours in their day. If a team is burning themselves out to meet a KPI, it is worth revising the goal or growing the team.
  • A new employee is expected to use a software system integral to the company’s operations, but they are not provided adequate training in the system’s functionality. As a result, their output is under par.
    Solve: Any tool has a learning curve. The more support a new hire gets in learning the company’s systems, the sooner they’ll show their true level of productivity.

By identifying and removing the reason a team may be unproductive, it is easier for managers to get a clear view of employees’ unencumbered output. That being said, productivity is also dependent on how invested employees are in their work.

Employee Engagement’s Role in Productivity

When we look for ways to increase productivity, it is necessary to also take a step back and assess whether employees are truly engaged.

Engaged employees are more motivated, more committed, and more productive than disengaged employees. However, according to Gallup's State of the Global Workplace report, only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. This highlights the need for businesses to focus on employee engagement as a means of increasing productivity and overall business success.

One way to improve employee engagement is to involve employees in the process of productivity tracking. By involving employees in goal-setting, providing regular feedback, and prioritizing employee recognition, businesses can foster a culture of collaboration and mutual respect.

Additionally, by providing opportunities for career growth and development, businesses can further boost employee engagement and motivation to be productive.

An employee suffering from burnout and working as a result of presenteeism.

Avoiding Presenteeism

Presenteeism is the practice of coming to work even when sick or unwell, leading to reduced productivity and increased risk of spreading illness. It is common in organizations where employees perceive that taking time off to recuperate would place them in a negative light with leadership.

Naturally, people can’t maintain high productivity levels 100% of the time. Whatever KPIs leadership sets for productivity should ideally be flexible enough to accommodate workers taking time off for their well-being, and regular check-ins to make sure there is no danger of burnout.

The prevalence of presenteeism costs businesses $150 billion each year in lost productivity. The use of productivity tracking tools may have an undesirable effect, increasing presenteeism due to unnecessarily strict measures of success. Therefore, it is important for businesses to encourage a culture of taking sick days when necessary and providing employees with the resources and support they need to prioritize their health and well-being.

The Impact of Productivity Monitoring on Company Culture

The effect of productivity tracking on company culture can be both positive and negative, depending on how it is implemented and communicated to employees.

On the positive side, productivity tracking can help to foster a culture of accountability and transparency, especially in remote teams. By optimizing their working hours, employees are empowered to take ownership of their work and make meaningful contributions to the business. By setting clear productivity goals and providing regular feedback, businesses can help employees feel valued, supported, and engaged in their work. This can lead to improved morale, motivation, and productivity.

An employee receiving positive feedback from leadership in a performance review.

Productivity tracking can also have a negative impact on company culture if it is perceived as intrusive, unfair, or punitive. If employees feel that their privacy is being invaded or that they are being punished for not meeting arbitrary metrics, this can lead to a decline in employee well-being stemming from resentment, stress, and disengagement.

Additionally, if productivity tracking is not done in a transparent and ethical manner, it can erode the trust and respect between employees and management, leading to a toxic workplace culture.

To ensure that productivity tracking has a positive impact on company culture, it is essential to communicate frequently and transparently with employees, involve them in the process, and use the right productivity metrics and tools. It is also important to tailor productivity tracking to the specific needs and preferences of your employees, to the extent possible.

Software and Tools That Track Productivity Effectively

There are various tools and software solutions available for employers to track productivity and help employees achieve valuable performance.

Time tracking software

One popular tool for optimizing productivity is time-tracking software. These tools allow managers to monitor employee work hours, breaks, and overtime. Time-tracking software can help managers ensure that employees are working the required number of hours, avoid time theft, and optimize scheduling. Remote time tracking is standard practice at many firms with distance workers.

For examples of vetted solutions, consult this buyer guide of time and attendance software.

Performance Management Software

Another type of tool that employers can use to track productivity is performance management software. This software would work in tandem with a performance management plan and can help managers set clear goals and KPIs, track employee progress, provide recognition and feedback, and identify areas where employees can improve.

Using performance management software can be particularly useful for remote workforces, where it can be challenging to monitor employee performance effectively.

For more information on these tools, have a look at this list of vetted employee performance management software solutions.

Employee Monitoring Software

Employee monitoring tools are another type of software solution that employers can use to track productivity. These tools can provide real-time monitoring of employee activities, such as keystrokes, mouse clicks, and website visits. The data collected can help managers identify areas where remote employees may be wasting time or engaging in non-work-related activities.

Some examples of employee monitoring tools include VeriClock, Teramind, and DeskTime.

It is essential to use such tools responsibly and transparently, as they can raise ethical concerns about employee privacy and discrimination.

An employee hard at work at her computer.

Overall, the choice of tools and software solutions for tracking productivity will depend on what your organization is trying to achieve. If it is a matter of holding individuals accountable for meeting deadlines, a project management tool may suffice. If you require detailed reports on time allocation for billing, accurate time tracking makes sense. The level of employee surveillance necessary is also dependent on what aligns best with your company’s values and culture.

Using these tools can raise ethical concerns about employee privacy and have a real impact on employee well-being and company culture. Employees may feel that the introduction of such a tool is the punishment for being unproductive— a highly demotivating state for workers who are already going above and beyond.

It is essential to involve employees in the process of adopting and implementing tools for productivity enhancement. Ensure that the metrics and tools are transparent and fair, with a focus on continuous improvement rather than punitive measures.


Tracking employee productivity can provide businesses with valuable insights into employee performance and help optimize their workforce. However, it is essential to approach productivity tracking in a way that is ethical, transparent, and focused on continuous improvement.

This can help to foster a culture of accountability, transparency, and growth, while also ensuring that employees feel valued, respected, and supported. By striking the right balance between productivity tracking and employee well-being, businesses can achieve sustainable growth and success.

Mallory Herrin, SPHR, SHRM-CP, CPLC
CEO and Principal HR Consultant at HerrinHR with 18 years of HR and Employee Services experience
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Mallory Herrin is the CEO and Principal HR Consultant of HerrinHR, a leading human resources consulting and outsourcing firm that provides expert HR solutions to small and mid-size businesses. With over 18 years of HR experience and dual certifications from HRCI and SHRM, Mallory has established herself as a thought leader in the industry.

Mallory is a certified coach and author of Intentional HR: A Revolution in Strategic Thinking, a book that has garnered widespread praise from HR professionals. She frequently speaks at HR conferences and is a recurring guest on podcasts, including HR Insider.

Mallory’s insights and expertise have earned her numerous accolades, including being named one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in Executive Hiring and one of the Most Admired Women Leaders in Business, 2022. She was also recognized as one of the Top 10 Unstoppable Entrepreneurs to Follow in 2022. Her work has been featured in both local and national publications.

With Mallory's strategic approach to HR consulting, businesses can expect to receive innovative solutions that help them achieve their goals while maintaining compliance with all relevant regulations. She is committed to empowering organizations to make positive changes that enhance their culture and bottom line.

Featured in: Intentional HR: A Revolution in Strategic Thinking (Book) 2020 North Texas SHRM Conference Good Morning HR Podcast HR Insider Podcast By The Books Podcast

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