What Is the Difference Between Work Performance and Productivity?

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The shift to remote working prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic brought about a reassessment of productivity. This became vital with the advent of the pandemic and naturally enough, questions about how it’s measured arose. I decided to investigate what separates work performance from productivity.

Without further ado, let’s answer the question.

Performance is the process of accomplishing a task. It’s your ability to meet the expectations of your employer or company. It focuses on activity and is typically measured using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) goals, the number of business objectives achieved and more. Performance only means that you’ve done something to a given standard and doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve produced anything. Productivity, on the other hand, concentrates more on output, or what is produced for the hours, efforts and costs you’ve put into it.

Before we discover more about the difference between work performance and efficiency, let’s define each of them.

What is work performance?

Employee performance is a mix of tangible and intangible factors. It’s often described as someone’s ability to do their work to a particular standard. But performance encompasses much more. Here’re just some of the intangible factors that make up an employee’s performance.

  • Punctuality.
  • Communication.
  • How happy they are to work in a team.
  • Attitude to work.
  • How they treat and interact with their colleagues.

Both types of factors are important because both impact the performance and culture of an organisation. The expectations HR executives and senior managers set for employee performance serve to form worker experience, affect productivity and influence performance.  

What is productivity?

Productivity has traditionally been a measure of output across time, a term which was originally used in the field of agriculture.  In the world of business, we use the term to refer to the amount of work done, the quality of that work and what it’s worth in terms of achieving business aims. It’s related to money invested or hours worked. Thus, productivity is nearly always quantitative.  Companies are looking for the highest output possible for the lowest possible amount of input.

Many factors can influence productivity, but there’re also a lot of misconceptions about it. Let’s look at a few of them.

  • More hours worked means productivity has increased.
    • This is not only wrong, it’s also a road to increased levels of employee burnout. Research suggests that productivity drops if you work over 55 hours a week. People who work 70 hours don’t produce anything more in the extra 15 hours, and as I’ve discussed before, fatigue can damage productivity and burnout can be its death nell.
  • Downtime equates to wasted time.
    • People need time to rest if they are to fully focus and put their best efforts into their work. This can anything from getting up every so often to stretch or taking a couple of minutes to chat to co-workers.
  • Multitasking means you get more done.
    • Humans are not as good at multitasking as we like to believe. Rather than doing two things at once we’re in fact just switching between tasks which can impair our focus and so reduce our efficiency.

The traditional measure of efficiency — output to input divided by costs — remains applicable in a stable environment, something the pandemic afforded to few. No wonder productivity is so hard to gauge. Some even ask whether it is more important to create environments in which productivity can flourish.

If this view is prevalent the natural follow-up question is what type of environment and skills do you need to have to promote high levels of productivity.

Soon, we’ll investigate how important work performance management is for productivity. For now though, let’s find out why we need to remember the difference between the two.  

Why do we need to differentiate between work performance and productivity?

It’s vital to distinguish between performance and efficiency because, even though they’re different, they’re closely connected. Therefore, managing performance takes on importance. By keeping an eye on employee performance you can:

  • Increase employee engagement.
  • Improve morale.
  • Improve your workforces attitude to business processes.
  • Identify and act upon problems within the work environment that will damage productivity if left unchecked — bullying, for example. 
  • Create room to bring in changes which aim to enhance efficiency.

It’s worth noting that an improved performance doesn’t always equal an uptick in productivity. Somebody could be meeting all expectations and hitting all their assigned goals, but still not producing anything significant.  This may not be the fault of the employee though, it may be because  not all of their objectives are in line with the organisation’s goals.  

If you get confused between the two terms — or misuse them — it is easy to get a misleading idea of how productive your company is.  To increase productivity you should concentrate on ensuring that every hour of work is geared towards whatever you produce. Each employee should add value to your organisation. An improved performance that goes in the same direction as company goals often translates into improved efficiency. Thus, productivity is strongly connected to work performance. 

The importance of work performance management

Two factors which affect both work performance and productivity are employee wellbeing and engagement. Management may need to develop their skills so that they can successfully motivate employees to work together when people are in different locations. 

Performance management processes like performance appraisals, feedback, rewards and reviews all aim to increase productivity by improving performance. But that isn’t their sole purpose. That’s because one person’s performance at work is not independent of others. It’s a single part of a team’s performance. Therefore, an appraisal or review of a worker’s performance helps them to measure the extent of their contribution to the team’s performance.

Effort and efficiency combine to form an employee’s effectiveness, and this should be reflected in their productivity.  Now, we’ll share some tips for how you can boost productivity in your business through some stellar work performance management.

How can you improve efficiency in business?

Here’re 9 ways you can build employee engagement, communication and productivity to help take your business to the next level.

Be aware different people are more productive at different times.

We know that different people work best at different times of the day. Thus, if your business can adapt to allow employees to work at times at which they’re most productive, it will yield encouraging results.

Encourage regular breaks.

Ensuring that people take breaks often means having a more rested workforce who are less prone to exhaustion. If they take time away from work,  they can tackle it with real enthusiasm when they get back.

Focus on tailoring work towards employees’ strengths and company goals.

Work out the strengths of your employees. Then, determine how you can use them to advance your business goals as opposed to concentrating only on addressing their weaknesses.

Give your team access to the right training and suitable resources and tools.

Your team can only be efficient if you have access to the training and tools they need to do their jobs well.

Cultivate an environment in which communication between colleagues is fast and easy.

Effective collaboration allows teams to bounce off each other and share insights. Enabling great communication can boost productivity.

Avoid micromanagement.

Everyone has their own way of working. Insisting your employees work in a particular way will likely hinder their productivity. Give people room to figure out how they work best by experimenting with different routines and tools.  

Review employee performance regularly.

Frequently discussing how employees are doing provides an opportunity for you both to assess progress. You can also ask what can be done to increase both business efficiency and ways in which your employee can be more productive. As part of this review process, it’s a good idea to seek employees’ opinions and feedback on a number of things. These could include business processes and what needs to be streamlined, as well as helping to work out whether any processes could be eliminated. Another way you could get their views is by giving out employee surveys.

Set objectives that are useful, helpful and in line with company goals.

Examine how you set objectives. Are they geared towards achieving company goals? Are your employee’s goals helpful? Are they in line with company objectives? By ensuring employees understand how their work contributes to the organisation as a whole and helps the company succeed, you can make people feel more appreciated and valued. This improves motivation which can — by extension— improve efficiency.

Reward employees and recognise their efforts.

By recognising and rewarding the effort and work your colleagues devote to their jobs,  you can increase productivity and their loyalty to your organisation with just a little effort on your part. In return for encouraging your workforce and making sure they know you appreciate them, you’ll have more productive, engaged employees who’re more likely to put themselves out for you and your company.


We’ve explored both productivity and work performance, looked at some misconceptions that surround productivity and discovered how it’s linked to performance. I hope I’ve shown that, while they’re separate, effective work performance management can serve to bring the best out of people and help maximise productivity. So, why wait? Follow the tips given above and start building thriving teams and companies today!

Published by Lizzie

Lizzie here. I'm a freelance copywriter and editor based in the UK. I'm also passionate about volunteering and hold a MA in History from the University of Warwick. I've written for a multitude of fantastic websites and companies, including a legal automation software company, a dog training site and more. Check out my reviews on Fiverr and Upwork for more info!

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