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The Problem With Productivity Shame

4 min read
high performing employee experiencing productivity shame

Something characteristic of a high-performance workplace is the attitude of aspiration and constant improvement. But along the way, any talented team member will likely have felt productivity shame because of it. 

Survey data by The Hustle revealed that 63% of entrepreneurs feel burnt out, while 59% had experienced anxiety. But what is productivity shame and why does it happen? Read on to find out. 

What is Productivity Shame?

Productivity shame refers to the feeling of guilt or inadequacy that individuals experience when they believe they are not being productive enough. It’s an emotional response to the belief that one is not meeting their or others’ expectations regarding productivity and stems from a range of causes often intertwined within the workplace environment. Here are some examples of what causes productivity shame:

  • Unrealistic Expectations: Whether set by yourself, managers, or colleagues, these expectations can create immense pressure to perform at peak levels constantly. When employees feel like they are falling short of these expectations, productivity shame tends to arise.
  • Excessive Workload: When employees have more tasks and responsibilities than they can reasonably handle, they may need help to meet all their demands. This can lead to inadequacy and guilt, as they perceive themselves as not accomplishing enough.
  • Comparisons to Colleagues: workplace environments can get competitive, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring one’s productivity against that of others. Constantly comparing oneself to seemingly more productive colleagues can leave individuals feeling inferior and questioning their capabilities.

high performing employee discovering feelings of productivity shame

How Productivity Shame Impacts Employees

The detrimental effects of productivity shame extend beyond the immediate emotional response. It can have significant consequences for employees and the overall work culture, with some of the primary consequences being:

  • Stress and Burnout: Productivity shame places immense stress on individuals, leading to increased levels of anxiety and burnout. The constant pressure to meet unrealistic expectations or catch up with perceived high achievers can result in chronic stress, ultimately compromising employee well-being and mental health.
  • Decreased Job Satisfaction: When employees consistently experience productivity shame, their job satisfaction declines. The constant feeling of falling short can erode their motivation and enthusiasm for work. Over time, this can lead to disengagement and decreased overall job satisfaction.
  • Toxic Work Environment: Productivity shame not only affects individuals but can potentially create a toxic work environment. When employees constantly compare themselves and engage in self-criticism, it can breed a culture of competition and undermine collaboration. This, in turn, hampers teamwork, innovation, and the overall sense of camaraderie within the organisation.

The Downside of ‘Always On’ Culture

For many organisations and their teams, something that truly does perpetuate productivity shame is an “always on” culture. Always-on culture refers to a work environment where employees are expected or encouraged to be constantly available and responsive, even outside regular working hours. It often involves a high level of connectivity and the use of technology to stay connected to work-related tasks or communications.


Everyone needs a sense of work-life balance. However, with this type of company culture, employees feel compelled to be constantly available, eventually resulting in fatigue, reduced productivity, and a decline in overall mental and physical health. This can limit your team member’s ability to work at full capacity, as they cannot fully disconnect and recharge.

Strategies for Overcoming Productivity Shame

Many variables define a positive work culture, and each one is a key indicator of how well your employees are performing. Research into organisational culture finds that 53% of employees find their performance directly tied to how well they’re recognised, with 66% of those surveyed saying that their workplace culture positively impacts their work and behaviour. Here are a few ways to create a work culture that prevents productivity shame. 

Educating Employees

One of the best ways you can stop productivity shame in its tracks is by equipping your team members with the right tools for them to mitigate its effects. Here are some ways in which you can prepare your team members:

  • Personal Productivity Patterns: Take the time to analyse your work habits and identify patterns that hinder your productivity. This self-awareness will help you implement targeted strategies to overcome challenges and optimise productivity.
  • Time Management Techniques: Explore proven methods such as the Pomodoro Technique, Eisenhower Matrix, or time blocking. These techniques assist you in prioritising tasks, managing distractions, and maintaining focus, enabling you to accomplish more in less time.
  • Goal Setting and Prioritisation: Set clear goals and establish realistic priorities. Break down tasks into manageable steps and set achievable milestones. This approach reduces overwhelm and allows you to focus on what truly matters, increasing your sense of accomplishment.

hr manager having a meeting with high performing staff to discuss productivity shame

Cultivating a Supportive Work Culture

Productivity shame can be mitigated effectively when supportive peers or colleagues surround you. And there are a few ways in which you can know for sure that you’re within a supportive work culture: 

  • Managerial Support and Coaching: Managers play a crucial role in supporting their team members through regular check-ins, constructive feedback, and providing resources for professional development.
  • Encouraging Peer Support and Collaboration: With buddy systems, mentorship programs, or cross-departmental collaborations, you can create a supportive space that encourages learning and knowledge sharing.
  • Celebrating Achievements and Progress: Acknowledging milestones and progress is a great way to create a positive work environment, motivating individuals and reducing the likelihood of productivity shame.

Leveraging Technology

While you would ideally want to focus on strategies that aim to positively change your workplace culture, the technology and tools readily available for your team members will also play in your favour when attempting to thwart productivity shame. 

Digital solutions can streamline administrative tasks and automate repetitive processes, reducing unnecessary workload and freeing up valuable time for more meaningful work, allowing employees to focus their energy on high-value projects while reducing the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed or inadequate due to an excessive workload.

Besides streamlining processes, incorporating productivity tools such as project management software, task trackers, and collaborative platforms can improve team organisation and coordination.

Sergio is a seasoned copy and content writer who has worked directly with company founders, CMOs, brand executives, and marketing directors from multiple industries. He's an HR geek and humble terpsichorean.

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