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Technology is NOT a Manager!

For those of you who did not see or hear about it, there was an article in the Toronto Star on November 1st that detailed how a local law firm was implementing fingerprint technology to monitor its employees’ time spent in the office. For the purposes of this post, I am not even going to get into the issues around privacy and employers collecting personal data such as fingerprints. I am, however, going to focus on why the law firm indicated that wanted to implement the technology.

Specifically, one of the founding partners indicated that they were implementing a revamped security system (with finger swipe) for clocking in and out of the office. He indicated that it was “to keep track of morning late comers or those who try to jump-start their weekends by slipping out early on a Friday.” He further expanded indicating that it was to deal with the “abuse of the system” and that people weren’t working their full work week. The beauty of it all is that it has already created a two-tiered system whereby lawyers do not have to use the system but the support/admin staff does. I wonder if the inherent bias here is that only admin staff abuses their time reporting and not professional staff? The worse part of this entire approach is that the firm speaks out of both sides of its mouth. They try to take the approach that the new system is for ‘security” purposes primarily but that the time tracking capability is a “huge bonus.” I ask, a bonus for what? Destroying morale? Reducing engagement? Creating an environment of suspicion and distrust?

I truly wonder what this company thinks they will accomplish with this? I would have to ask – what type of message do they think this is sending to their staff? Answer – “We don’t trust you? You are lazy?” What possible effect do they think this will have on employee engagement? As you can tell, I am not a fan at all of using technology to manage peoples’ behaviour. To me, if this firm suspects they have issues with people’s hours worked, than the managers need to MANAGE this issue. How about talking to your employees? Is this a case of one or two bad apples that abuse their time and then everyone gets painted with the same brush? What ever happened to focusing on results? If you are required to prepare x number of documents each day with a 0% error rate and you are able to do that in less than 40 hours a week, is that not a more desired state than an employee who produces less documents but is there for 40 hours? I think we tend to lose sight of the big picture and that is when you get reactions like implementing time tracking systems for office professionals.

My suggestion to this company would be to spend more time talking to your managers and employees and finding out what is working and what isn’t. How about we hold the managers accountable for their staff and their productivity as opposed to a blanket approach like the one being taken? What about more two-way dialogue with the employees to find out what might be driving certain behaviours? Are engagement surveys done? Better yet, what about working with the management team to better equip them to manage their employees and deal with the few abusers? My fear is that situations like this fall into the trap of the 80/20 rule. You come up with a rule/policy/solution that you spend 80% of your time managing and focusing on but it only applies to about 20% of your staff. At the end of the day, the company probably has one of these two issues:

1) They have absolutely no idea how to manage the outliers that perhaps are not productive or delivering results, so they will now rely on a widespread technology system to do this. This way, the conversations are easy – “Look, you didn’t work 40 hours this week…you are not doing a good job.” Or, “You worked 40 hours this week…great job!” Essentially the focus is now on being seen in the office…never mind delivering results. Can you say, “presenteeism?”

2) They simply do not care about employee engagement or having their managers take ownership of this issue. Perhaps they don’t even want managers spending time on this issue, hence the reason they will allow the technology to monitor it (Big Brother is watching you). In other words, we have more important things to focus on than speaking to our staff.

At the end of day, I think we know that their employee engagement and morale will take a hit. I am also not certain what this says about their employment brand…or the fact that the company seems quite delighted with its use. Ultimately, organizations get the type of employees and work environment that they deserve. I will leave it to you to figure out what this one will be!

Image courtesy of Idea go/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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