Controversial time-tracking software is becoming increasingly popular in the remote / hybrid work environment. But can it really replace good leadership?
By Michael Mekhitarian
A Canadian tribunal (the equivalent of Australia’s Fair Work Commission) has recently ordered a woman to repay her employer thousands of dollars after time keeping software showed that she had been misrepresenting the number of hours she worked.
Her employer installed controversial software called TimeCamp on the woman’s laptop after it was discovered that her assigned files were over budget and behind schedule.
The software has additional capabilities beyond time management – it tracks how long a document is open, and how the employee uses the document.
Some weeks after analysis, the company found ‘irregularities’ between the employee’s timesheets and the software usage logs”.
The tribunal ordered the woman to repay her employer about $2,500 Canadian dollars – some in returned wages and some as a part of previous advance she had received from the company.
In the era of remote and hybrid working post-pandemic, a lot of companies are beginning to look to ‘Big Brother’ type software to keep an eye on employees’ productivity… and it presents a number of issues worth discussing.
Firstly – if you’re seriously considering this type of software then check the legalities in Australian workplaces – make sure that your policies are water tight and communicated clearly.
But even before you do that, ask yourself – do you really need it?
Of course, retail and hospitality industries, nursing and early childhood are some which heavily rely on time management software and require employees to clock in and clock off – this is crucial for keeping track of overtime, award rates and penalty rates.
But if you’re in the service industry … Do you really have a solid business case for implementation?
It seems like a massive backwards step to me. We’ve talked so much in the past decade about how employees should be assessed and rewarded on criteria based around their ability to make a meaningful contribution to the business, rather than ‘hours worked.’
We’ve also talked a lot about genuine leadership versus micro-management.
There is a lot to unpack within this topic, but it most definitely starts with the decisions a leader makes about who to recruit or promote and whether they are a good match for the role.
Beyond this – a good leader can usually tell when an employee is not engaged because a good leader will know their own people and how they operate.
And a good leader will also know there could be several reasons for loss of engagement that are worth investigating, rather than simply go ahead and assume that someone is ‘slacking off’.
Employees are people too – stresses and strains in their own lives and adverse personal circumstances sometimes spill over into ‘work time’.
Sometimes people get bored and need additional stimulation and new challenges. Other times, people just don’t have the skills or capacity to take on projects, become overwhelmed, and need additional help.
A good leader will have the kind of relationship with employees that encourages open discussion around these subjects when the time arises.
And these are definitely the types of conversations that should be a precursor to anything that even looks remotely like ‘performance management.’
At ATB, it’s been our experience as employers that the more we trust our people, the more willing they are to step up – beyond what’s expected – when the situation demands it.
Culture plays a big role here too – people need to feel empowered and valued … So they can speak up if they’re not enjoying a project, or a client is being difficult, or they’re struggling to get on cooperatively with a workmate ….
But people also need leaders who understand that their lives are multi-dimensional, so they can say very personal things like:
“My spouse wants a divorce, and things at home aren’t great”….
“My husband lost his job, and we’re really under serious financial stress….”
“My Mum/ brother/ aunt is in hospital…”
“My landlord’s selling and I’m worried about finding another place to live…”
These are real concerns, and you employ real people who are bound to experience life’s ups and downs from time to time. Your people must feel respected and trusted enough to speak up if something’s not right, because if they try to hide it, things can go off the rails.
Being forewarned is forearmed and you can put some temporary plans in place, to keep things moving forward productively, rather than be faced with a last-minute crisis and everyone stressed out, or in the position of having to let down clients by shifting deadlines and deliverables.
If and when these types of things occur – particularly when you have a small team – the trust you’ve developed will go a long, long way, especially if someone needs to take unexpected leave immediately and other team members need to take on more than their share of the load.
I guarantee you, if you can be understanding and flexible, then the employee who benefits will give back more to the business in return, after the dust settles.
Of course, with people spending less time in the office it’s harder to maintain relationships with employees, but not impossible. Employers are thinking up all sorts of imaginative ways to keep teams connected across geographical distance – a simple Google search will give you some ideas.
Yes, we all want to control costs (especially right now), but there are some things you just can’t put a monetary value on, and a major one is employee loyalty.
Employee churn is one of the biggest costs to small and medium-sized businesses and of course, right now, we’re in the middle of a skills shortage that shows no sign of abating, so make sure that you: