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The Russian translation for "effectiveness" seems to be "эффективность", a word that sounds pretty similar to "effectiveness" and also initially would seem to be able to be used interchangeably to describe the same concept in both languages.

However, the Russian translation for "efficiency" is also "эффективность".

"Effectiveness" is about the capability of producing a desired result, or how close something/someone is to achieving a desired result (or sometimes also how much of the desired result it achieves).

"Efficiency" on the other hand is about the ratio of the desired outcome compared to the resources it took to achieve. The amount of productivity vs. the amount of waste.

These two words are used to describe distinct concepts in English, but these concepts are seemingly merged into one word in Russian.

I'll give a particularly absurd example of how this can lead to confusion to help illustrate my point:

If I were a manager and I noticed that a Russian worker I was supervising had an output that was of high quality, met all of the client's requirements, and never had any mistakes, then at their performance review, I would want to tell them "You're very effective at performing your job." In Russian, it seems that saying "Вы очень эффективно выполняете свою работу" to them would be a reasonable way of going about that.

If that Russian worker was also slow, though, sometimes not able to meet deadlines because they were obsessing over the details to achieve such good output, I might then also say, "Though you're not particularly efficient at performing your job", which, if I also wanted to tell them in Russian, I would say "Хотя вы не особенно эффективно выполняете свою работу".


I haven't looked into the etymology, so I'm not speaking from a place of knowledge. If I were to take a guess though, based purely on how they sound, the word "эффективность" seems to be derived from the word "effectiveness" (or they share a common ancestor). Somewhere along the language's evolution though, Russian also added the concept of efficiency to that word, instead of as its own separate word.

This seems to also be true when the words are used in more technical contexts with things like "energy efficiency" translating to "энергоэффективность".

In a technical setting, if you wanted to avoid any ambiguity, it seems like the simplest way to talk about efficiency in Russian would be to say "коэффициент полезного действия", which is a mouthful but gets the point across.

For a non-technical and especially for a casual context though, I haven't been able to find any satisfactory and straightforward way (a way that is both effective and efficient, if you will 😉) to express the concept of efficiency in Russian without having it mixed up with effectiveness, or vice versa.

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    Hi and welcome to Russian.SE! A very well-written and interesting question!
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 3:30
  • 'For a non-technical and especially for a casual context' -- I'm often scared of questions that vague because there are those tricky cases when the choice of words may vary with the context. Could you add some more specific contexts you're interested in, besides performance review?
    – Igor G
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 6:37

3 Answers 3

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Эффективный as a modifier applied to people is a very recent innovation in Russian, a part of the 1990s' influx of anglicisms and English calques.

I personally am not fond of it, and I think the popular quip эффективный менеджер captures the sentiment well, although, of course, I realize that it already has become entrenched in the language.

Before that time, it was only used in phrases like эффективный метод, эффективный способ, эффективное лекарство etc.

In the very rare cases when it was applied to people, it was clearly used as a metaphor and put in quotes:

  • Говорят, что Бутиков самый «эффективный» из преподавателей семинаров по физике, у него и задачи сложнее решают, и больше успевают по объему, и «усваивают» (глупое слово) лучше. [А. А. Сарибан. Дневник (1967)]

It did mix the meanings of "effective" (действенный, результативный) and "efficient" (производительный, экономичный, высокорентабельный), with a strong bias towards the former.

Unfortunately, few of these synonyms can modify people in Russian.

"Effectiveness" is about the capability of producing a desired result, or how close something/someone is to achieving a desired result (or sometimes also how much of the desired result it achieves).

In the context of human resources, that would be результативность, if anything.

"Efficiency" on the other hand is about the ratio of the desired outcome compared to the resources it took to achieve. The amount of productivity vs. the amount of waste.

This would be производительность труда or эффективный расход сил. The latter is a linguistic trick or sorts, because "effective effort" is the definition of "efficiency", and the two meanings kind of converge. I'm not sure if there's a single adjective applicable to people for this concept.

If you're ok with changing the sentence structure, I would put this performance review of yours as работаете вы очень результативно, хотя и не особо эффективно расходуете силы.

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[...] express the concept of efficiency in Russian without having it mixed up with effectiveness, or vice versa.

If you want to use both those concepts in a single phrase and mixing up their meanings is a concern, then I'd suggest using neither and looking for less ambiguous synonyms. The only problem here is that the choice of synonyms and sentence structure will heavily depend on the context, so I'm hard put to offer a one-size-fits-all alternative.

In that particular context of performance review, I would avoid using any эффект-based word (remember, there's yet another word "эффектно" that might be perceived as "spectacular" or "showy") to avoid any possible confusion.

  • "Работаете вы качественно, но не рационально." -- Succinct, straightforward and rather harsh (way too assertive with no sugar coating).

  • "Вы работаете хорошо, иногда даже слишком хорошо в ущерб производительности."

  • "Вы очень тщательно выполняете свою работу, но производительность страдает/хромает."

  • "Вы очень качественно выполняете свою работу, но это сказывается на производительности." -- probably the most polite one of these four.

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The Russian combination of suffixes -н-ость (-nost') is spelled and pronounced similar to English -ness and means generally the same thing, but is by no means a borrowing from English. It's a productive suffix in Russian and of Proto-Slavic origin, so words formed with this suffix are not necessarily borrowings from English.

Эффективность in Russian generally means efficiency, not effectiveness.

Effectiveness can be translated depending on the context. in your example, I would translate it as качество (quality) or точночть (exactness), тщательность (hand-on).

Depending on the context, it also can be translated as эффектность (the ability of the result of making an impression, impressing the public, spectacularity).

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