Speed Reads


U.S. worker productivity seems to be rising, thanks to the pandemic. Also, workers say the pandemic has sapped their productivity.

"After a decade-long drought, worker productivity might be about to accelerate thanks to pandemic-induced technological adoption, which could lift economic growth and wages in coming years while staving off inflation pressure," The Wall Street Journal reports. Investments in productivity-boosting technology and automation, combined with a shift from bricks-and-mortar retailers to e-commerce and steep losses in lower-paying jobs in less-productive sectors, are "enabling companies to raise productivity, which is defined as output per hour worked," the Journal explains.

U.S. productivity should also be boosted by white-collar workers not having to travel to conferences or even the office, thanks to widespread adoption of teleconferencing and other remote-work software, some experts told the Journal. "Happier workers are more productive people," said Bart van Ark, director of the Productivity Institute in the U.K. "People who have more energy and are less tired are more productive people, as well."

"I'm just so exhausted all the time," writer Susan Orlean tells The New York Times. "I'm doing so much less than I normally do — I'm not traveling, I'm not entertaining, I'm just sitting in front of my computer — but I am accomplishing way less. It's like a whole new math. I have more time and fewer obligations, yet I'm getting so much less done."

Hundreds of workers told the Times that a year of working from home during the pandemic has left them "feeling like burned-out husks, dimwitted approximations of our once-productive selves," Sarah Lyall writes. "Call it a late-pandemic crisis of productivity, of will, of enthusiasm, of purpose."

"Malaise, burnout, depression and stress — all of those are up considerably," Todd Katz, executive vice president and head of group benefits at MetLife, told the Times, citing an Employee Benefit Trends Study with 2,651 employees conducted in December and January. "People are saying they're less productive, less engaged, that they don't feel as successful."

"When people are under a long period of chronic, unpredictable stress, they develop behavioral anhedonia," or the inability to take pleasure in their activities, added Margaret Wehrenberg, an expert on anxiety. "And so they get lethargic, and they show a lack of interest — and obviously that plays a huge role in productivity." Technology, of course, doesn't develop anhedonia. Read more about late-stage pandemic burnout at The New York Times.