The Trouble With Tracking: Why Employee Accountability Processes Shouldn’t Be Invasive

Employee tracking software may look like a good way to measure productivity, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Employee productivity can’t be measured through tracking technology alone (or at all!). Read on to discover some people-first alternatives.
Productivity Trackers

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In days gone by, productivity has been fairly simple to measure. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, productivity can simply be defined as “a ratio between the volume of output and the volume of inputs”. 

In the era of hybrid work, however, measuring employee productivity isn’t quite so straightforward. Keeping an eye on inputs like time and activity may sound like a great way to start, but attempts to measure productivity along these lines can do more harm than good. Read on to find out why.

The Trouble With Employee Productivity Trackers

Employee productivity software looks—at first glance—like a sensible way to measure your people’s productivity. 

These data-heavy platforms claim to provide in-depth insights into employee efficiency, offering a wealth of information including:

  • How long your people take to complete tasks
  • Employee behavior
  • The software applications your people use

If you’re only thinking about productivity in terms of inputs and outputs, this kind of approach looks ideal. Employee time and activity are both inputs—but they don’t tell the whole story. After all, there’s a lot of data that these trackers can’t work out.

The Demoralizing Effects of Surveillance

What if your people prefer to do some of their work using an old-fashioned pen and paper? What if they need to chat with a colleague in order to solve a problem? What if they can’t complete a task until they’ve taken a moment to sit down, make a cup of coffee, and quietly think through their plan of action?

All of these activities are legitimate, reasonable approaches that have a part to play in a given employee’s productivity—but they can’t be tracked or measured by software.

Besides, even if it were possible to keep track of your people’s thoughts, or their actions away from their computers, such measures would only highlight just how intrusive productivity tracking can be. As one Deloitte report suggests, this kind of practice can “send a message of distrust, neglect workers’ need for autonomy, and confuse activity for productivity”.

Your people won’t feel engaged or productive under these demoralizing surveillance conditions. On top of that, the data these trackers provide just don’t paint a complete picture. You might be able to work out how long your people have been typing or Skyping, but if those activities don’t have an impact on your organization, they’re simply not useful metrics.

MORE ABOUT MORALE AND ENGAGEMENT | 3 Employee Engagement Ideas for Remote Workers

From Inputs to Outcomes

It’s not hard to recognize why we instinctively turn to activity-based metrics to get a sense of employee productivity. In the past, workers confined to an office may have benefitted from “looking busy”, and it’s easy for managers to equate the constant tapping of a keyboard with meaningful work.

On top of this, it’s understandable for some organizations to react to remote and hybrid work by trying to increase visibility and tighten controls over employees who suddenly aren’t under the watchful eye of management. 

In short: it’s no wonder productivity trackers are popular!

The problem is simply that they aren’t measuring the right things. Neither inputs (like time put into a task) nor outputs (like products created as a result) are good measures of productivity. Or, to borrow a phrase from a recent report on the subject, “why does it matter how many widgets people produce if nobody wants to buy them?”.

To truly measure employee productivity, we need to look for new (and more nuanced) metrics. Rather than outputs, we should be looking at outcomes. You need to know what kind of impacts your people are making on their organization. But what does that look like?

Accountability Alternatives

There are gentler, more human ways to foster accountability and keep an eye on productivity among your workers than intrusive surveillance methods.

Taking a people-first approach doesn’t mean abandoning tech altogether, but it does mean using platforms that respect and retain employee autonomy while recognizing that activity alone—like hours at a desk, number of words written, or volume of calls made—doesn’t equal productivity.

Instead, it’s worth thinking about tracking productivity by encouraging frequent conversations between employees and managers. By investing in a platform that facilitates 1:1 conversations, your people can:

  • Regularly touch base with their manager 
  • Communicate any issues before they grow
  • Work collaboratively to minimize any problems or roadblocks
  •  

This is a far more personal, highly human approach to keeping an eye on employee productivity. Rather than coming across as distrustful, 1:1 contact fosters a feeling of trust and support between managers and their reports.

In short, this method allows you to keep track of how your people are getting on with their work while improving productivity by promoting healthy relationships—all without sacrificing the freedoms that come hand-in-hand with hybrid working.

Analytics Without Intrusion

It’s not all about conversation, though! You may want to put aside your productivity tracker, but that doesn’t mean you need to give up data-led insights altogether.

The right employee engagement tools can help you see how your people are progressing in terms of their learning, development, career trajectory, and ongoing goals and objectives. Solutions that offer survey authoring will allow you to keep an eye on sentiment and success among your people, providing a deep degree of insight into how your employees are feeling and the progress they’re making on an individual level.

This kind of information can inform your understanding of employee productivity. Just as importantly, using surveys will ensure that the data you receive is volunteered by willing participants—rather than extracted through surveillance techniques.

Want to Look Beyond Tracking Software?

This blog post is an extract from our ebook, ‘How to Measure Employee Productivity’. If you’d like a more in-depth understanding of the right metrics used to measure productivity among your people, download our full ebook today.

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