Only 41 percent of employees are currently performing optimally – consistently giving their best work in a way they are confident they can sustain over the next year, according to Gartner, Inc.

Post-pandemic, work has become “unbounded,” with fewer constraints on when, where and how it must be done. This is especially true for remote-capable employees, who don’t need to be in a specific location or interact with others in-person to do their work.

While a March 2023 survey of 139 HR leaders found that 96 percent reported they met or exceeded their 2022 employee performance targets, only 58 percent are confident that they can meet or exceed their 2023 employee performance targets.

“Only 29 percent of HR leaders feel confident that their organization’s current processes are effective at helping employees achieve and sustain their best possible performance,” said Kayla Velnoskey, senior research principal in the Gartner HR practice. “HR leaders are concerned that employees are not giving their best work, are struggling to sustain their efforts, or both, leaving them worried for their organization’s future performance.”

What about sustained performance?

A February 2023 Gartner survey of 2,280 remote-capable employees revealed that 24 percent of employees are consistently giving their best work, but they are not confident they can sustain it over the next year.

Another 14 percent of employees are confident they could sustain their performance, but they are not consistently giving their best work.

The remaining 21 percent of employees who are not performing optimally are not consistently giving their best work, and they are not confident they can sustain it over the next year.

How performance is achieved

With 59 percent of employees not performing optimally, organizations are not maximizing employees’ potential performance sustainably. Employees who are not performing optimally contribute up to 25 percent less value to the organization and are 14 percent less likely to stay with their employer. 

“HR’s typical approach to employee performance today supports what we call ‘employee agency’, which enables individuals and teams to take ownership over their performance,” explained Velnoskey. “However, supporting employee agency alone fails to address three burdens on performance: excessive ‘work to do work,’ fatigue, and feelings of futility. Many HR leaders are facing pressure to bring back constraints of the past as organizations fear this is the only other approach to address these burdens.” 

Gartner research reveals that the best organizations have discovered another option: guiding employee agency by giving performance cues. To guide employee agency, organizations must provide employees with three performance cues – signals that guide employees’ choices about their performance – around their path, pace and progress.

Path cue

Leading organizations both enable employees’ autonomy to make decisions about their work, and clarify context for those decisions. Understanding the context for decisions helps employees select paths that are likely to succeed in advance instead of having to continually adjust to align to others’ needs or the resources available at the organization.

Enabling autonomy and giving context for decisions together reduces spending excessive time and effort on “work to do work” by up to 9 percent and increases the likelihood of employees achieving optimal performance 2.4 times. 

Pace cue

Progressive organizations are building wellness into work to help employees see how wellness can be a part of how they perform, not an additional thing they have to do.

Building wellness into work makes it easier for employees to choose a sustainable pace and avoid fatigue. Incorporating wellness into work, in addition to encouraging employees to care for their wellness, reduces fatigue by up to 41 percent, and employees are 2.8 times more likely to achieve optimal performance. 

Progress cue

The best organisations recognize high-performance actions to show when success is achieved in real-time. 

Recognizing high-performance actions supports employees to drive for exceptional progress by signaling to employees the specific actions the organization wants them to continue. This reduces employees’ feeling that their efforts to meet or exceed organizations’ performance expectations are futile by up to 9 percent while increasing the likelihood of employees achieving optimal performance 5.7 times.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.