Someone’s PR team has been doing some good media relations work in the last few weeks. We’re seeing a lot of reporting about what tools and tactics some employers are using to monitor (or, you know, spy on) their shirking workforce.
For example, there’s a tool called Sneek that takes pictures of employees via their laptops and uploads them to some Orwellian nightmare place for fellow employees to see.
Over on the Ask A Manager blog, one commenter even reported that their manager wanted them all to be on a Zoom call – all day. That’s right, let’s replicate the office by having multiple video streams of people’s domestic setups streamed into your face for eight hours.
One employer has even boasted about his use of software to track employee keystrokes.
Any decent manager or business leader would cringe at the suggestion that they employ these tactics. What’s next, a Ring drone to follow that potential shirker through their homes? (…I bet someone out there is already thinking about doing this.)
Monitoring people like this is insulting and infantilising. How do you expect anyone to think creatively or problem-solve if they’re obsessed with being present in the right way every second they’re online for work? It’s impossible.
So why do managers do this?
1. The manager doesn’t know how to manage
Back in the 60s, my mum used to work for the GPO, which involved her plugging a connection into a variety of ports to connect people who were trying to call someone else on the phone (yes, I know, WTH?!). They were supervised by someone seemingly hired for their guard dog qualities. Toilet breaks were strictly policed. People were told off harshly for having conversations or daring to need an extra loo break.
People in call centres, or distribution plants for certain well-known retail giants, still experience a similar work environment. But that doesn’t make it right.
Management in an office environment isn’t meant to be paternalistic. You’re not my parent or nanny. Great managers are mentors. They’re meant to inspire and motivate – not stamp down on any spark of oddball humanity that their employees express.
In short, an effective manager doesn’t manage my capacity to think and act freely. They’re there to make sure employees are doing high-quality work on time. Not to police when and how they do it.
People may not express their unhappiness with a poor manager – especially now when the economy is looking shaky – but what they will do is burnout much more quickly. It will have negative consequences for them and the business.
2. The manager doesn’t trust their team
Managing this way is a massive red flag to employees that their manager doesn’t trust them. They don’t trust that they’ll do their work on time, or well, so they set out to monitor them and micromanage them however they can.
It might not be eight-hour Zoom calls. There are many ways managers can signal that they don’t trust their teams. For example, I heard one account of a manager setting up a morning call to list that day’s work, an afternoon call to check on progress and an end of day call to check that the employee had done all things on the list.
If you don’t trust your employees to work from home without micromanaging or monitoring, you’re basically saying you don’t trust them at all. And I have to ask, why are you working with someone you don’t trust? Why should your employees trust you?
3. The business is focused on the wrong thing
Okay, some jobs may need some form of monitoring (due to compliance), but they are exceptions to the rule.
For most people, the longer we sit in a chair and stare at a screen, the worse our output becomes. We’re not machines. We need time to stare vacantly into space, help our kids with something, pet the cat before it finally follows through on its threats to kill us (or is that just my cats?).
Presenteeism could be terrible when we were all sharing an office, and it can be just as bad now that we’re all working from home. The best way to ‘monitor’ whether or not your employee is working is to look at what they’re achieving. Are they getting results? Meeting deadlines? Are they continuing to produce high-quality work despite us all working through global health, political and social crises?
If the answer is no, have you checked on how they are doing? (Not in a “Look at all of the rubbish work you are doing! Explain!” way, but with empathy and understanding.)
We spend a lot of time looking at how big brands are treating employees and customers during the pandemic. If a brand does poorly, will the customers return? Smaller businesses and agencies need to apply the same thought to their workplaces.
Treat people badly when they need understanding and support more than ever, and don’t be surprised if all of your best talent starts looking for a new opportunity the second they can.