Study Reveals that Atlanta Tops List for Cities Most Affected by ‘Productivity Paranoia’

Staff Report

Friday, February 24th, 2023

After a few years of unsettled working due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which required employees to work from home, employers globally are now tackling a return to office work

According to a recent report, 90 percent of companies announced they will require employees to return to the office at least part of the week in 2023, with 77 percent admitting they will change their hybrid working policy in the next year. For one-fifth, employees will be required to return to office-working full-time, whereas 40 percent said they want staff in the office four days a week and 31 percent said three days a week.

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index: Pulse Report found that while employees have embraced a new age of hybrid working, 85 percent of employers aren’t confident that they are being as productive outside of the office – leading to ‘Productivity Paranoia’.

The tech giant defined ‘productivity paranoia’ as where leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though hours worked, the number of meetings and other activity metrics have increased. Their survey found 87 percent of employees reported they are productive at work, but only 12 percent of leaders stated they have full confidence their team is productive.

This disconnect has led to a rise in digital overwhelm, where employers struggle to trust their employees and employees feel pressure to prove they’re working efficiently.

To discover which US cities have the most paranoid employers, The Digital Project Manager has conducted a study, analyzing state laws around employee monitoring, Google searches around the topic and the percentage of Indeed job adverts recruiting remote employees. Each data point was then normalized to give an overall paranoia score.

The study found that the US city where employers are most paranoid is Atlanta, Georgia – with a paranoia score of 8.9 overall.

Researchers discovered that employers in Georgia don’t legally require consent to monitor emails or calls or have employees switch on webcams and are always allowed to track their employee’s location.

Atlanta has had an average of 602 Google searches per capita related to employee monitoring in the past year alone.

Additionally, just six percent of Indeed adverts for jobs hiring in the area offered ‘remote work’.

Wichita, Kansas, is the second city most affected by productivity paranoia, receiving a paranoia score of 8.6 overall.

Similarly to Atlanta, employers living in Kansas are allowed to monitor their employee’s emails and can legally require them to switch on webcams during virtual meetings.

However, one slight difference is that Kansas is a one-party consent state. This means that it is illegal to use any device to listen, amplify or record communications without consent from at least one person taking part in the conversation. Though this does mean that if the employer gives consent, the employee doesn’t need to agree and their calls can be monitored.

There have been 332 Google searches per capita related to employer monitoring in the past year and just over two percent of Indeed job adverts allow ‘remote working’.

In third place for the US city with the most paranoid employers is Louisville in Kentucky, with a score of 8.3 overall.

Again, Kentucky has a much more employer-friendly approach to email privacy. Employers are allowed to read emails sent to email addresses they have supplied to an employee as long as they have confirmed they will be monitored. This is the same for monitoring calls taken on work telephone devices. Employees can also be dismissed for refusing to switch on webcams due to ‘at-will employment’.

Although, there were much fewer employee-monitoring Google searches, with just 246 per capita related to employee monitoring with calls, emails and devices in the last year.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic comes from the percentage of job adverts for ‘remote’ work in Louisville, with just over two percent of employers expressing interest in letting staff work remotely.

Completing the top five US cities with the most paranoid employers are Kansas City in Missouri (8.2) and Indianapolis in Indiana (7.7), with employers in both locations advertising ‘remote’ work in just three percent of adverts. 

On the other hand, the cities that had the least paranoid employers are San Francisco (0.7), Chicago (1.2) and Illinois (1.4), where employee monitoring is only allowed in some circumstances and there is a much higher percentage of 'remote' jobs available. 

Overall, California is the least paranoid location as it dominates the table for the top 10 cities for least paranoid employers.

The state of California operates a ‘two-party consent’ law, which means that it is a crime to monitor employees without consent from all parties.  

Galen Low, General Manager at The Digital Project Manager, commented on the study:

“With millions tackling a return to office life, it can be an extremely unsettling time for employers and their employees. 

“However, managers should focus on making the transition as easy as possible and motivate their teams, rather than apply extra pressure. 

“While it’s clear that some US cities have more paranoia than others, with laws allowing employee monitoring -  an invasive approach is likely to result in an unhappy workforce. 

“After several years of working from home or hybrid-working, you need to establish trust by listening to employees and encouraging feedback to see how they are finding the transition.

“A happy workforce is likely to be more productive than an unhappy one.” 

You can view the full study here.