A person using a computer. — © Image by Tim Sandle
Productivity monitoring is a pedant’s paradise for employers and people who are paid to pretend to manage people. This type of monitoring generates any amount of data based on “activity” real or imaginary.
Media coverage of this imbecile-level management tool is erratic. That means a lot of big money is involved in selling productivity management systems. Most of the coverage focuses on systems and technologies, not the actual value of the productivity monitoring functions.
The New York Times has a current article that is pretty efficient in terms of covering all the issues. The reader is “monitored” while reading the article, which is a bit of a hoot. I dawdled through the article and got an “Acceptable” rating while being monitored by the second as I was reading. If my early morning, only one cup of coffee meandering speed of reading was acceptable, a house brick would probably scrape through as OK.
Note: Read the NYT article, and you’ll see a smorgasbord of serious and extremely expensive problems. Productivity management is the chainsaw in the maternity ward for people management at any level. This is How to Turn Over Staff incarnate.
The history of management pedantry
Productivity is a word which is routinely spun in all directions except productive directions. To explain:
- “Product’ is whatever is actually delivered.
- “Productivity” has somehow become the entire process of production whether anything at all is actually delivered or not.
- The means, in effect, is the end.
- Productivity monitoring means you can waste hours talking about someone’s two minutes away from their screen at a cost of millions upfront.
Management pedantry is about measuring the costs of employee time. You can discover someone taking a few minutes at company expense doing something other than simply pretending to work, and become a hero. This is “cost-saving” at its least efficient.
You may or may not receive a dog biscuit and possibly a pat on the head from an even less competent higher manager for this total waste of time. The $1.50 “lost” by an employee advising another employee will be a big issue. The fact that the employee was helping another employee will not be an issue.
There’s a history to this automated barnyard pecking order.
It started with KPIs, “Key Productivity Indicators”. These were simple metrics like how many phone calls you took, how many files you did, etc. These indicators did everything but indicate what you actually did.
To give an example – I went for a job interview for a financial company. The job was client consultation. You had 2-3 minutes to deal with the client. The product was superannuation. Super accounts can be worth millions. Two or three sessions later, I was one of the two candidates left. My sales work was good, customer relations good (so they should be; I had 20 years of experience in customer service at multiple levels) but I took about a minute longer than required.
I didn’t get the job. I made the point that these accounts were worth big money. To me, an extra minute or so talking made more sense than shutting down a client for that sort of money. The company was hived off and sold after a disastrous market performance.
Productivity management is much the same now, just a bit more complex and bitsy. These systems will monitor mouse activity, time away from desk, etc. like any dedicated pedant. There is no quality control on the data being collected, just verbose justifications.
All of this is being done because so many more people are working at home. Someone has cashed in on managerial insecurity and sold these systems to the truly lousy, insecure, managers. It seems that pseudo-managers need to fully document their attempted management and don’t know how to do it themselves.
A real manager would look at actual outcomes, not waste time on these cosmetic middle management justifications of itself.
“Did you get the contract? I don’t care about how much time one of your staff spent on video games. That contract is worth billions. Why are you wasting time and money on anything else?”
Productivity monitoring vs reality
To add serious insult to major injury for employees, there are “rankings” for productivity. Someone who works very hard and takes 10 minutes off can be actually penalized for the 10 minutes and ignored by the system for outcomes.
In America’s tyrannical “employment at will” culture, this sort of expensive insanity is pretty normal. Any nitpicking idiot can penalize hard work. They can even penalize successful work based on mindless stats generated by not-very-reliable systems.
On Reddit, there are how-to-beat productivity management boards. A “mouse jiggler” can generate productivity signals. These systems are that dumb. There’s no focus on anything but producing indicators, not qualitative analysis.
The joke here is that productivity monitoring is called “HR analytics”. Analyze what? Any old thing a pro-forma bit of software feels like recording, useful or otherwise?
Reading the NYT article, I almost burst out laughing when I saw some info about chaplains holding daily meetings in a hospice to predict productivity gains. In a hospice? What, are the dead about to become more productive? Because that’s what hospices produce as an end product, excuse the expression.
Productivity monitoring has nothing to do with real management. Someone’s goofing off. So what? Is the work being done properly and on time? Good luck to the goof-offs if it is. They’re actually doing their jobs.
As a way of turning over competent staff, this second-by-second obsessive nitpicking system must be the best ever. Nobody, particularly nobody good at their jobs, would waste their lives fitting into such a time-consuming, excruciatingly clumsy, environment where what is achieved is almost irrelevant.
The real key to understanding productivity monitoring
Productivity monitoring generates a lot of data. Too much by far. Outcomes matter; this doesn’t. If you’re mindlessly monitoring bathroom breaks rather than hard business, your sense of personal hygiene must be as bad as your managerial skills.
Time IS money. X needs to be done in Y time. That’s it. Spending unspeakable numbers of hours on monitoring and analyzing nothing but trivia simply consumes time, per employee, per day. These systems must be costing billions in time and money.
There’s an interesting if far too polite, article in Computer World addressing the risks of productivity monitoring. It points out that employees may misbehave simply because they’re being monitored. I’d say that the degree of monitoring defines the level of this risk. The more oppressive the workplace, the more hostile employees are likely to be.
Lose these systems and do your own job which just happens to be managing people. You’ll find it works.