Time tracking employees can be one of those actions that can help improve productivity or destroy it and hurt trust and motivation as well.
It all depends on the culture of the company, the trust between the leaders and the teams, the how and why employee time tracking (including time tracking software) is used, and the way it is implemented.
In this article, we will discuss the ways time tracking may be used, why it can be dangerous, the importance of culture, and how to implement it if you need/decide to do so.
Table of Contents
Why Time Tracking May Be Used (the Purpose)
Time tracking software can be used for multiple reasons – some good, some not so good.
For Clocking In and Out
- If you have hourly employees and you want to pay them for what they worked, it makes sense to have them clock in.
- If you have salaried workers and you want to track hours to make sure they get their respective comp time when they go over their 40 hours, then that can make sense.
- If you have an employee who struggles with being on time, part of the process you take working with them to help them might be to have them clock in. That makes sense.
- If you enforce employee time tracking because you don’t trust them or you want to control them or “get them” when they mess up, then that’s not a good practice. We’ll discuss the why in a bit.
For growth and improvement
If you don’t track how well you are doing, it’s hard to improve.
If you use time-tracking software to measure how long certain tasks or projects take so that you can work to improve them, that could be good. It could also become a challenge to do better and better.
Measurement, whether time or otherwise, done right, can help reinforce positive behaviors and help you improve and get better.
To help with scheduling
When you are scheduling projects and tasks, knowing how long tasks take can help you with scheduling.
If you are installing hardware, and you know it usually takes 5-7 hours to install that hardware, you can plan (and bid more accurately) on your projects.
It can also see when you have hiccups so you can see what issues might be so you can work to keep them from happening in the future.
Your company may bill by the hour or by the minute. In either case, you will want to track your time so you can bill your customers effectively.
For data sake
Some leaders try to track anything and everything. They want to time track everything their employees do. They want data for data’s sake, because, something, the more data you have, the better decisions you make.
While data is important and can help you make better decisions, data for data’s sake is not effective. And too much data can sometimes be as harmful as too little data – it can easily put one in analysis paralysis, and then they end up not using it.
It also becomes onerous for those having to track and measure everything. Instead of actually doing the work, they spend so much time doing all the data that is supposed to “help” them or leadership, that they end up getting less done.
Lack of trust
Though some leaders may say that time tracking was implemented because of some of the other reasons above, they really do it because they don’t trust their employees.
They don’t trust them, so they try to control them. And when they do that, they end up hurting motivation, morale, trust, and employee productivity.
Even when it is perceived as that, it can cause damage.
To “get them” when they mess up
And, truth is, some companies have a “gotcha” environment. They are looking for every way their employees mess up to “get them”. Time tracking is just another method to do that.
As you can see, time tracking can be helpful in certain situations; however, there are dangers to it. Let’s look at some of them.
The Potential Dangers of Time-Tracking Employees
Here are some potential pitfalls and dangers of using employee time-tracking apps or software.
1. It becomes onerous and frustrating to employees (especially coupled with other data tracking)
Depending on the time tracking software or method you use, it can be a pain and frustration to your employees.
If they are having to do multiple data collection activities for leadership, that frustration and stress can increase all the more.
To them, their work may become more about filling out all the data forms for leadership or admin instead of doing their actual job. And that can be demoralizing and demotivating.
2. It wastes time and hurts productivity
Truth is if it’s not done well or for the right reason, it can hurt instead of help.
For example, if it’s not done for a valid reason or a painful lengthy method is used to time track, or if it’s one of many data points that have to be consistently collected, it can waste time and hurt productivity.
3. It’s seen as a lack of trust
Depending on the culture and the sense of safety and trust within the culture of the organization, time tracking can be seen as a lack of trust.
Employees may see it as another way leadership doesn’t trust them but is using it to micromanage and control them.
4. It can hurt creativity
When employees feel that everything they do is being tracked and fear that if they mess up or show a hint of not doing the right amount of time, it hurts creativity and innovation.
They may fear to research, try something new or innovate, as that may mess with their time and get them in trouble. They aren’t going to take the time to think or try new things. Their mentality will be to do what is safe to protect themselves instead.
5. Employees are less likely to share mistakes and problems
If employees feel they are tracked to micromanage or make sure they are doing right, they are less likely to speak up when a problem arises or a mistake happens.
6. It creates “gotcha” environment
Some leaders, with the wrong mentality or lack of training, will use time-tracking software to find what employees are doing wrong instead of finding ways to help and support them. They are out there to “get them”.
7. It can be demotivating
Feeling micromanaged can easily make one feel demotivated.
8. It can create extra stress
It can create extra stress to perform to a certain level or to get things done by a certain time. And, feeling like someone is always looking over your shoulder creates stress as well.
9. It could hurt quality
If employees feel stressed and pressured to meet certain time quotas, they may rush, ignore safety protocols, or do a lower-quality job to get done in a certain amount of time.
10. It could lead to employees being busy versus productive
If one is constantly being monitored on their time, they are going to or feel pressured to make sure they always look busy.
The problem is, being busy may not be productive. They may always show them doing something, but it doesn’t mean what they are doing are the tasks that drive the company forward.
As you can see, time tracking, if done poorly, can have many negative effects. A lot of it has to do with the culture. Let’s look at why.
Why Culture Matters
The culture of your company determines the effectiveness of your company.
In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek discusses safety within an organization. When employees feel safe, they can face outward and face the problems their company is facing.
When an employee doesn’t feel safe, they face inward to protect themselves. When an employee doesn’t feel they can trust their leaders, safety is compromised.
Employees should feel they can trust their leaders and feel trusted by their leaders, they should feel safe to admit mistakes and bring up problems without retribution, and they should know when they say “I don’t know how to do this” their leaders will support them. They should know their leaders care about them.
If you have a culture where employees feel safe, then with the right communication, time tracking may work well. If they know you are using it to help them, help the mission, and it’s not about “getting” them, they are much more likely to embrace it.
Leaders should be about supporting employees, seeing mistakes as learning opportunities and part of innovation and growth, be about helping not “getting” their employees, and caring for and serving their employees.
Great leaders hire great people, set great expectations (give direction), and then free them to do their job.
On the other hand, if your employees don’t feel safe, feel micromanaged, feel like you don’t trust them or care about them or put numbers over them, then it’s likely time tracking will be seen as another way to control and micromanage and another sign that leadership doesn’t trust them.
What if I really don’t trust my employees?
Then the problem is with you as the leader. The effectiveness of the team, the results, everything goes back to you as the leader.
If you don’t trust them, your actions made that happen. It could be you just don’t trust people. It could be that you are too controlling.
- Maybe there are certain areas as a leader you need to grow in.
- Maybe you need to communicate better and set better expectations.
- Maybe you need to provide better resources, training, and help for your employees.
- Maybe you need to work on your hiring policies and the ways you hire.
If you feel like you can’t trust your team and have to control them, that is a reflection on you as a leader, not on your team or employees.
Also Read: 21 Leadership Behaviors Effective Leaders Do
How to Decide If and How to Use Time Tracking Software
For some of you, time tracking is part of what you do. You have to track billing hours. You need to know how long it takes to install X device so that when you put in bids, you bid accurately. And so on.
In that case, what matters is how you implement it and how it comes across to your employees.
If using it is not critical for your industry, you need to ask yourself why you want to enforce time tracking. Is it for growth, scheduling, or so on? Or is it to control?
Make sure you are doing it for the right reason. If you decide to track time, make sure your culture is right and you implement the following effectively.
How to Implement Time Tracking Effectively
These are example steps you can take. Some are vital. However, your organization is unique. How you implement may depend on the needs of your organization. Use and do what works best for you.
First, make sure your culture is where it needs to be
If you have a toxic culture of one of distrust, before you start implementing any form of time-tracking software or methods, you probably want to deal with that issue first. Not just so you can implement time tracking, but so you have a healthy organization.
As long as it’s toxic and full of distrust, almost any action such as time tracking will be seen as another method of control and distrust. The results you get may be counter to what you are wanting.
Make sure before you implement it, talk with your employees. Explain what you are trying to accomplish and why (let them know the purpose).
Get their feedback and gauge where they are at on it. If there is a lot of uncertainty or fear about it, talk through it. Listen to their input. Make adjustments as needed.
The better you communicate and listen, the more effective your implementation will be. You may even gain some ideas you hadn’t thought about before, and you may see trust or other issues you didn’t know about.
Only measure what is needed
Don’t make it too complicated. Don’t try to measure everything if you don’t need everything.
Make it easy
If the time tracking tools or method you use is onerous, time-consuming, and annoying, you will be frustrated and likely get pushback from your employees.
Make it easy to use and implement, and you are much more likely to get buy-in. (And part of making it easy is measuring only what you need, above).
Train your employees on the time-tracking software or method you are using
After you’ve communicated, train them. Make sure they understand how to use it, when to use it, and know how to use it well. Provide refreshers, support, and reminders as needed.
Be patient with the implementation
People may forget. Some may be more hesitant. Be patient with the implementation. It may take time for it to become part of the everyday routine.
Don’t be quick or make it about punishing people who don’t do it when you start. That’s a great way to turn people against it and build that distrust.
Collect feedback from your employees
As you go along, collect feedback from your employees. See what is working well and what can be improved. See what may be frustrating and what may need to be changed.
The more you truly listen, the more buy-in you will receive, and the better you will implement it with the feedback you get.
Should you time-track your employees?
It all boils down to three main factors: the purpose, your culture, and your implementation method.
Make sure you have a good purpose for doing it. Make sure your culture is healthy and it is seen for what it is meant to do. And when and if you implement it, make sure to implement it effectively.
Now to you: What do you think? Are there other reasons and ways it can be effective? Do you think employee time tracking would be effective for your organization? Let us know in the comments below.
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