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We need to stop believing people need to work harder to be productive and instead think about how we can work smarter, says Associate Dean of Research, Professor Frederik Anseel.

“How can we make sure that everyone works a bit harder or goes an extra mile or is more motivated to work harder?” Professor Anseel said.

When we think about productivity it’s the linear relationship between the output of work you deliver and how hard you work.

Anseel wants to challenge this, as he believes productivity is about working smarter to decrease our input thus increasing what we get out of it.

US technology tycoon, Bill Gates, has a concept where he hires a lazy person to do a difficult job because they will find the easiest way to do it.

They find the “lazy” employee will, in turn, deliver a bigger contribution to the organisation.

Anseel said managers put pressure on employees to work flat-out to get things done but this doesn’t boost innovation or productivity.

“That prevents them from stepping back from work and reflecting how could we do things differently,” he said.

Frederik Anseel

Professor Frederik Anseel speaking at UNSW Business Schools' Future of The Sydney Innovation Ecosystem conference.

If your business is productive and this productivity declines, it could lead to outperformance in the market. But often no thought is given on how productivity can impact employee satisfaction.

When employees aren’t productive, they can become dissatisfied which can negatively impact the survival of the company.

“People feel motivated and satisfied at work if they have the feeling that they're making progress, that they're going forward,” Prof Anseel said.

Anseel noted managers think their main job is to motivate people to work their hardest but he believes this is a misunderstanding of what the managerial role is.

Managers assume their employees will be lazy or they will not complete their assigned tasks if they are not monitored or tracked, but Anseel said employees need their autonomy.

With experienced professionals, managers need to focus on removing obstacles and protecting their team in the process. Even though they may believe micro-managing is good, putting trust in their employees can free up a lot of resources and time.

“You need to trust people and that is very difficult for a lot of managers because they think people cannot be trusted if we do not follow up or tell them what to do.”

Anseel said employers expect productivity to happen instantly but unproductive workplace behaviour can’t be fixed overnight"

 “If you read business magazines, you read … five steps to increase productivity and that is very appealing because it seems so easy. But what we know from all the research is that … it goes very slow to turn things around,” he said.

But productivity is often contagious and when employees are surrounded by other productive people, they are influenced by their behaviour.