The arms race of employee productivity tracking
I once worked for a company where the managers leveraged the Microsoft admin settings to search employee emails; understand connections between people (eg who was emailing who most regularly); and openly tracked and recorded calls, call time.
As a team lead, I knew what the management was doing and was told not to worry. They were only tracking these metrics to help improve the productivity of the teams and identify areas for improvement. And, of course, leads aren’t being tracked.
In practice, they searched employee email for any sign the person might be planning to resign (and would find a way to fire them first). And they used those connections to identify people to pair off as competitors. Once they identified a group that seemed to be getting along (due to the volume of communication), they would talk to them individually about how the “other person thinks you aren’t good enough”.
When any lead or manager challenged these practices, the management insisted that this was the best way to build a competitive spirit in the team.
These secret performance hacks didn’t stay secret for long. And once people knew what was happening, the techniques became pointless.
Any time there is a power and value differential between two groups, there is an opportunity for an arms race. One group has an interest in creating new ways to retain and increase control. And the other group has an interest in taking control.
Soon everyone was using WhatsApp for internal messaging and email only for externals and reporting to management. Phone metrics became pointless as anyone who was short on targets would just redial their phone number over and over again. When management realised people were calling themselves and then keeping the line open for house to maximise their “call time”, they implemented a average call time limit. Yet that just triggered more innovation.
Just like escalation in a war, every action produced a reaction and continued the downward spiral. Never once did management consider seriously what was driving this. And the people involved often ended up believing the narrative or leaving.
The innovation continues...