Employee Productivity vs. Hours Worked: What Matters More?

March 31, 2023

Have you ever felt like you're living in a loop, just like the androids in HBO's Westworld? For many of us, the five-day workweek can feel like that — a never-ending cycle of debilitating repetition and crippling monotony. 

Sometimes it feels like you’re trapped, doesn’t it? Well, blame Henry Ford, the big boss of the Ford Motor Company. 

In 1926, he shut down his factories for two days a week, essentially giving birth to what’s now widely loathed as the five-day workweek. At the time, Ford's idea was driven by good intentions: to boost productivity and keep his workers happy by paying them a full week's salary while only requiring them to work Monday through Friday, eight hours a day. 

Plus, he believed that by giving his employees an extra day off, they'd be more likely to spend their hard-earned cash on things like cars - smart thinking, right? Maybe it was. But not anymore. 

People are increasingly questioning whether the traditional 9-to-5 grind, originally designed for factory workers in the early 1900s, still makes sense in our modern tech-driven world. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdowns, workplaces all over the world are starting to rethink how we work and, as a result, the four-day workweek movement is gaining momentum. 

A recent study involving 61 companies in the UK found that a four-day workweek resulted in improved well-being among employees without damaging company productivity. According to its findings:

  • Employees reported lower levels of burnout and stress
  • Sick and personal days reduced by 65% 
  • Resignations also decreased by more than half, compared to the previous six months
  • Companies' revenues increased by 1.4% on average (despite working fewer hours, by the way)

Despite the benefits, not everyone is on board yet, unfortunately.

A lot of managers still measure productivity based solely on hours worked, not realizing that not all those hours are actually productive. Admittedly, it's easy to fall into the trap of assuming that more hours worked equals more productivity. After all, the math sounds easy: the more time you put in, the more work you get done. That is if you’re not regretting your existence while parking your vehicle in a dark, damp corner of your office building at 9 am. 

Research, however, vehemently disagrees.

A study from Stanford University economics professor John Pencavel shows working more than 50 hours a week can actually make your hourly productivity plummet. Yes, you read that right. In fact, after 55 hours, productivity drops so much that working more would be pointless! So, if you want to get the most out of your work hours, make sure to go easy on yourself. Take breaks, relax, and recharge; your productivity will thank you for it!

Read More: From Dragging to Flowing: How to Find Your Most Productive Hours

But it's not just productivity that can suffer from overwork. 

According to the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization, working long hours can be really harmful to your health. The study defined "long hours" as working more than 55 hours per week, and it revealed that in 2016, this caused 745,000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases around the world. It also found these long hours were linked to a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared to working 35 to 40 hours per week.

Goes without saying that it's imperative to find a balance between work and rest to make sure you're taking care of both - your productivity and your health. 

So, why do managers continue to evaluate employees based on hours?

One reason is that it's simply easier to track how many hours an employee spends at their desk than it is to track how much work they're actually getting done, that too from a physical distance.

Another reason is that managers often want to justify their own long work hours. If they’re working long hours, they might feel some sense of fairness in asking their employees to do the same. It’s clearly wrong, and borderline unethical.

Unlocking the Secrets of Productivity: How Much Employees Work & What They Produce

What exactly is employee productivity? To put it simply, it’s the efficiency and effectiveness of an employee in completing the assigned tasks within a given time period. It’s basically how companies judge their employees and then decide the appropriate response.

On the flip side, working hours are the hours an employee spends at work. Ideally, all (or most) of these hours should be spent on completing tasks, attending meetings, and engaging in work-related activities - but we don’t live in an ideal world, do we?

So are the concepts of employee productivity and work hours the same thing? Not by a long chalk. 

Work hours are, as the term aptly suggests, just hours. A measurement of time. That’s it. Productivity, on the other hand, is the actual work an employee manages to complete during those hours. That work can be done in eight hours or two, but not everybody sees it this way.

When it comes to employee productivity, most managers believe that the number of working hours is directly proportional to their productivity level. They think that employees working over 35 hours each week are nailing the productivity scale - they’re not!

In reality, productivity is about quality delivered. It is an employee's ability to manage time efficiently, prioritize tasks, and produce quality work within the given time frame.

Beyond 9 to 5: How Remote Work Maximizes Productivity and Flexibility

Research has shown that employees are happier when they don’t have to worry about working for a set number of hours

In a December 2022 story for, three economists, including Stanford University’s Nicholas Bloom, concluded work from home as the ‘trend of the year,’ adding since the pandemic, almost 30% of paid U.S. workdays happen at home. The researchers also stated employees:

  • Value the ability to work from home 2-3 days a week
  • Save an average of 65 minutes a day in commuting and personal grooming time when working from home 
  • Appreciate the flexibility and greater control of the time that comes with it 

The economists added that offering fewer hours and remote work options can increase employee retention rates and productivity, as well as promote workplace diversity. What’s more, they found how working from home can also help save the environment as it saves ‘over 6 billion miles of commuting per week.’

What's not to love here?

The findings in Owl Labs’ 2021 ‘State of Remote Work’ report stated similar benefits of working from home. It found that remote workers were:

  • 47% more productive than their in-office counterparts
  • Saved 10 whole minutes of unproductive time per day 
  • Even worked one more day a week

Clearly, offering flexible work arrangements can have a positive impact on both employees and businesses alike. Remote work can lead to increased productivity and employee satisfaction. 

Bonus: it can help reduce environmental impact and promote workplace diversity. As we continue to navigate the aftermath of the pandemic in our ever-changing world, it’s imperative that more and more companies embrace remote work and offer flexible options to their employees to experience a truly productive workforce altogether.

Recommended reading: Remote Working Culture: Productivity Killer or Enhancer?

But What’s the Right Way To Measure Employee Productivity?

All of us are pretty much familiar with the philosophical concept of time and how it’s a precious commodity, an invaluable currency that flows ceaselessly and waits for no one. Sure, but measuring productivity based solely on the number of hours worked can be misleading. 

Why, you ask? Well, for starters, not all employees work at the same pace or with the same efficiency. Some may complete a task in less time due to, let’s say, their experience, knowledge, or skill level while others may require more time to complete the same assignment. Doesn’t seem fair, now, does it?

Moreover, measuring productivity solely on hours worked doesn’t always guarantee the quality of work. An employee who spends eight hours on a task but produces subpar work is obviously not more productive than an employee who completes the same thing in four hours but produces high-quality work.

Additionally, employees need breaks to recharge and refocus. Research has shown that taking regular breaks can increase productivity. However, if an employer is obsessed with the number of hours worked, they may discourage breaks, leading employees to burnout.

So, what's the right way for companies to measure employee productivity? Three words: set clear goals, such as "Increase sales by 10% in the next quarter" or "Reduce customer complaints by 20% in the next month." By doing so, employers can better assess an employee's productivity based on the accuracy, efficiency, and effectiveness of their work.

Another effective way to measure productivity is by tracking the progress of tasks or projects. This can help employers identify high performers and provide support to employees that may be struggling with a certain type of work. But most of all, it can ensure that all tasks are completed on time, within budget, and without pushing employees beyond their capacities - thereby achieving true productivity levels across the team.

Enter timegram.

Not to be missed: How Does an Automated Time Tracking Tool Work?

Rev Up Your Team’s Productivity Levels with timegram: The Ultimate Time-tracking Tool!

Are you managing a remote team? Do you dislike breathing down your employees’ necks but also want to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working efficiently? Well, timegram’s got you covered. It streamlines your workflow, increases individual and team productivity, and promotes accountability without resorting to surveillance tactics.

timegram is a privacy-first productivity tool that enables you to manage your virtual team effectively. With timegram, you can track your employees' actual working hours instead of the total time they spend behind the desk, assign and manage projects and tasks within those projects, monitor their working capacity so they don’t end up overworked, and generate accurate invoices based on billable hours. How cool is that? 

timegram also provides you with relevant team insights, which can help you improve your planning and boost individual and team productivity levels.

Learn more about timegram’s key features. Or sign up now and take your remote team management game to the next level right away! 


What is the correlation between working hours and productivity?

The correlation is only to the extent where the increase in work hours causes inevitable fatigue in workers and forces them to detest their job. Productivity is not dependent on how long you can work, but on how efficiently you utilize your hours. 

What is the difference between work performance and work productivity? 

Performance isn’t necessarily synonymous with productivity; it just indicates that you completed the task to the required standard. On the other hand, productivity focuses more on output, or what is created for the hours, expenditures, and efforts you put into it.

Does working long hours increase productivity? 

Not at all. Long hours only induce exhaustion. It’s science. Our mind and body don’t want to be in a constant state of stress. Even if someone loves what they do, there has to be a point where one calls it a day and unwinds and recharges to feel better. 

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Fatima Mazhar

About the author

Fatimah has over 10 years of experience working with words. When she's not writing, she’s busy setting multiple world records for watching the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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