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A few months ago, the management implemented a tracking software on our computers, such that it counts time only when a certain app we are working on is open and we are active on it. This means that you could be sitting at your computer doing something else related to work or not, and the tracking software won't count. Then recently, they asked us to fill at the end of the day what we were doing in the remaining time from the 8 hours, and they allow for pre-specified things, like meetings, QA discussion, ... etc.

This means that there is no room for things like rest room visits, stretching every now and then ... etc. They are trying to push us to work on the app "close to 8 hours", which I think is not feasible, not to mention that this has a negative effect on the employees because of the pressure they are under now.

What we as employees could do in this case if we cannot meet their requirements?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Sep 1 '20 at 15:30
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    What country is this? In some places it is illegal. – user Sep 1 '20 at 15:32
  • Does anyone actually care? Do you have negative interactions if it isn't perfect? This sounds like someone trying to cover their ass "of course my employees are working hard from home during COVID" in the laziest possible way. – Jared Smith Sep 1 '20 at 16:31
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    How high up the chain does this new requirement go? It'd be interesting to have a low-level employee let go only to find the upper levels don't do it. And by upper, I don't mean even senior level (three letter)... if my boss's boss doesn't have to do it, why does my boss? Also, verify, immediately, the labor laws of your city, county, state, country. – CGCampbell Sep 1 '20 at 17:26
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    Does this answer your question? Actual working hours vs. hours spent on the premises – mcknz Sep 8 '20 at 3:56

11 Answers 11

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I would personally build an Arduino unit to move my mouse every few seconds to seem active. I might even use it for an extra hour each day so I could use another computer to search for other jobs. 😈. I would spend a ton of work time learning a tech way to beat the thing.

For those that don’t keep a pile of bureaucracy fighting microcontrollers handy, how closely is this time management system being checked? I would start by just taking the bathroom breaks, labeling them the closest thing available (had a meeting with the toilet), and seeing if anyone noticed.

I technically have a time tracking requirement at work where we are to account for our time in this tool. It also demands that the entire workday be accounted for. For reasons of convenience, it is devoid of detail, has a single entry per day, uses default times, and the only thing in it beyond “worked on project” is some comment about the 15 minutes a month I waste filling it out.

Nobody has ever commented that my time log is useless. Plenty of people have complained about the number of hours not adding up quite right when I forget a vacation day or something. It is a bureaucratic requirement that is satisfied by the presence of entries. It needed to be filled. Whether it was filled usefully matters less.

If they start checking it more closely, start booking meetings with co-workers to “clarify” things. I have co-workers who I have to interact with on a regular basis that I would need to talk to a few times a day. Schedule it in and go to the bathroom instead of having the meeting.

This is not something to get hung up on. Figure out how to beat it and get on with other things.

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    Gaming the system as 1st paragraph suggested is all fine until you get found out and summarily fired. – Tymoteusz Paul Sep 1 '20 at 11:21
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    @TymoteuszPaul Doesn't sound like a place you'd want to stick around in for very long anyway. – J... Sep 1 '20 at 12:08
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    @J... so? Summary firing, which is not a stretch when employee engages in deception, means no notice period, no severance and possibly also no unemployment benefits/pay. If someone wants to follow that advice, at the very least they need to understand the possible consequences. – Tymoteusz Paul Sep 1 '20 at 12:10
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    Was talking to someone about this kind of thing, he said his solution was to put his mouse (plus mat) on a subwoofer and play some dubstep. It bounced his mouse enough to keep his computer unlocked and thinking he was working. – Dark Hippo Sep 1 '20 at 13:14
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    Honestly, if you want to change my job to move a mouse for 8 hours, then... I guess that's what I'll do? I'm a programmer and the most important part of my job is looking out a window and figuring out all the permutations of code that is available and evaluate which one actually fits the business and technical specification. I'm nowhere near a computer when I do my most important work. – Nelson Sep 1 '20 at 13:17
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What we as employees could do in this case if we cannot meet their requirements?

I'm going to parse this question literally and give some options:

  • Raise your concerns (with the backup of other coworkers) with management, saying that this tracking system is taking a toll on the employees and that there should be room for other pre-specified things like breaks and restroom visits.

  • "Work around" this tracking system. Leave it open while you take a quick visit to the restroom or while you take a minute or two stretching or go for coffee (not the most honest option as you can see).

  • Fill in whatever option you are given to excuse the time you were not using the app. Restroom visit? You were on your way to a meeting. Stretching or coffee break? You were on your way to a QA discussion to your coworker's desk (again, not the option I personally would be more comfortable with, to be honest, but an option nonetheless).

  • Start job hunting ASAP, land another job, give and serve your notice period and leave this job for one that is more reasonable with their expectations and requests from their code monkeys employees.

Now, putting my human facade back on, I think that what this company is doing is unreasonable, and unhealthy for their employees. As you say, they are "pushing you" to work 8 hours straight, without considering that programming and doing IT/sys things is not always linear.

If I were you I would immediately start looking for a new job. Then, I would try to politely bring these concerns with your manager, to probe what is their stance on this one. Finally, if it seems that they continue to be unreasonable and expect you to work 8 hours straight I would land another job and then give my notice and leave.

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    Thank you. The 2nd option won't work, because you must be doing something on the app, and not just leave it open. I thought of the 3rd option, which I think most employees would do (this system will exactly force employees to work around it, although the management goal is to increase productivity by micromanaging them!!), and I don't feel comfortable with it either.The first and last options are viable. The manger though is more on the authoritarian side, so, I doubt he would listen to the employees. I am looking for another job already, but in the current situation I am not optimistic. – BlackMath Aug 31 '20 at 23:39
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    @BlackMath my best wishes for you :) in that case, I fear that you should focus on finding and landing an other option ASAP. Then, alternatively, try to raise concerns with management, but bear in mind that they may not like this, if they are as you portray them... I find it ironical how someone can expect that simply installing a tracking software will increase productivity... all it does it to push people to lie or to work around the system or to quit (thus, reducing productivity lol). Their stance on the 8hours straight is the thing at fault here (otherwise the software could be useful) – DarkCygnus Aug 31 '20 at 23:41
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    "...all it does it to push people to lie or to work around the system or to quit (thus, reducing productivity lol)". Exactly. Thank you! – BlackMath Aug 31 '20 at 23:43
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    How does this app work? Do you do your work through this app? Learn something like autohotkey and have it mouse click the app every 30 seconds. Buy a cheap second computer to do this with the app and work properly on your primary computer. If I'm particularly mischievous, I would load it on multiple machines and show myself working > 24 hours a day, then demand overtime until they cut the crap. – Nelson Sep 1 '20 at 2:14
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    I can only emphasize the last paragraph about looking for a new job. Someone high up, probably the CEO, has got it into his head that unsupervised employees are lazy employees and any pushback will just be interpreted as lazy employees trying to avoid looking lazy. It's a toxic environment you need to get out of before it causes lasting mental harm. Things rarely end well when the employer has no trust in his employees. – Morfildur Sep 1 '20 at 8:46
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Something nobody seems to have mentioned here yet--form a union.

Seriously.

You don't give location or industry information, so I can't say what the relevant laws are or context is. It's possibly something you've never thought of before. Maybe you even instinctively dislike the idea. But this is exactly the sort of thing that unions are for: having a collective voice to stand against managerial overreach. If this new mandate affects a large enough number of workers, and you're all sufficiently upset about it, this might be exactly the time to tell management, in a clear and mutually supporting way, that this change to the terms of your employment is not acceptable and will not be accepted.

Unions aren't just about wages (although that's often an issue); the far more important concern is being able to create a workplace that treats you fairly, rather than as a resource to be consumed and exhausted.

Individually, all you can do is comply, or try some cute way to get around the requirement. Collectively, you may be able to get it revoked--and prevent the next idiotic initiative, too.

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A few months ago, the management implemented a tracking software on our computers, such that it counts time only when a certain app we are working on is open and we are active on it.

I worked with few companies who have implemented similar system where on top of that tracking their software also took random screenshots of your workspace so for every hour, day, week and month they had a nice time-lapse of images documenting the work employees are doing.

Obviously at the end of it some of those would include employee engaged in non-work activities, and that was fine as long as it didn't go "off the curve" too much - everyone "slacks" a bit at the workplace, it's fairly normal in IT (not so much in some other industries where slacking on the job, outside of pre-approved breaks is unacceptable).

You didn't mention anything about what happens if you do not manage to clock 8 hours in the, so I am going to assume that this is going to be a similar system, where some slacking off will be treated with a blind eye as long as it's not pushing some unspoken limit.

This means that there is no room for things like rest room visits, stretching every now and then ... etc.

That is going to be illegal in most 1st world countries, so very likely the expectation is for you to put that down in the freeform explanation of the time spend off-app. You should speak with your boss to verify.

What we as employees could do in this case if we cannot meet their requirements?

You are not in position to change the system, so either you decide that the compensation is good enough to suffer through whatever way the company wants to work, or you go out there and find employment elsewhere. It's very much guaranteed that when the management designed the new process are expecting the negative feedback of it, so just complaining is most likely to fall on deaf ears.

If you try to go and change the system from your current position it will be very risky and long-winded process, with relatively small chance of success, it's almost always easier and faster to just change the job. But then if you are hell bent on sticking in (probably because the place pays better than you can get elsewhere) then the start will be to talk with the management and log all the issues caused by the time tracking.

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  • "If you try to go and change the system from your current position it will be very risky and long-winded process, with relatively small chance of success, it's almost always easier and faster to just change the job" – Mawg says reinstate Monica Sep 5 '20 at 9:07
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IMO you basically have 4 choices, and this is in order of preference for how I would consider them:

  1. Leave and find another job. Micromanagement of this scale is unreasonable. (Caveat: If your contract says you are expected to work 10-hour days, and the company is asking you to report 8 of those hours, then it is reasonable. Asking you to work 10 hour days is another story entirely, however...). As a human being, you need to do things like use the washroom, eat, hydrate, stretch, exercise, etc. which would not involve you interacting with this logging app. If these things cause you to work over 8 hours because they are "not work-related", that's overtime and your company should pay you for that (I'm presuming that this company won't be amenable to paying this overtime given the tone of the OP, so my suggestion is "get out" rather than "fight").

  2. Seek legal resources (you can probably find some online to give you a rough idea without meeting with a lawyer) on whether or not this amounts to a breach of labour laws. Most locales have a labour law which says something like "for X hours worked, the company must provide X minutes of paid break time"; if your locale has such a law, your company may be (probably is) in violation of that law. Raise this issue to your manager and/or to HR (HR is not your friend, but HR is the company's friend, and if the company is in legal jeopardy which they might be, then HR will act) and see what happens. If that goes nowhere, then seek real legal counsel (talk to a lawyer) and see if you can sue.

  3. Raise the issue of "no bathroom breaks" to your manager and ask if he believes it is reasonable and if there is anything he can do to help you mitigate it. Failing that, if he says there is nothing he can do (or will do), show your company what happens when employees are forced to sit at their computers and not take bathroom breaks. Without getting graphic, you can understand what I am referring to. Pack a change of underwear to use before you leave the office so you don't expose unrelated bystanders in the general public. Bureaucrats rarely understand the impacts of their actions until it is brought to their attention first-hand.

  4. Work overtime. If you need a couple of hours per day for "unwinding time", e.g. stretching, having coffee, eating lunch, bathroom breaks, etc, then work 10-hour days.

Yes, that is in order of preference. I detest working unpaid overtime.

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Sorry if this is not in the US, I did not see a location mentioned. Here are some relevant US laws regarding breaks and meals. I've pasted the sections below. The gist is that employers are allowed to consider meal periods (e.g., lunch breaks) not part of your time worked, but for short breaks, like bathroom breaks, they must be counted. As for what you can do about it, I would just include it in the time worked. If this is not something you're manually reporting (it sounds automatic) I would just email HR every day the correct hours.

§785.18 Rest.

Rest periods of short duration, running from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes, are common in industry. They promote the efficiency of the employee and are customarily paid for as working time. They must be counted as hours worked. Compensable time of rest periods may not be offset against other working time such as compensable waiting time or on-call time. (Mitchell v. Greinetz, 235 F. 2d 621, 13 W.H. Cases 3 (C.A. 10, 1956); Ballard v. Consolidated Steel Corp., Ltd., 61 F. Supp. 996 (S.D. Cal. 1945))

§785.19 Meal.

(a) Bona fide meal periods. Bona fide meal periods are not worktime. Bona fide meal periods do not include coffee breaks or time for snacks. These are rest periods. The employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purposes of eating regular meals. Ordinarily 30 minutes or more is long enough for a bona fide meal period. A shorter period may be long enough under special conditions. The employee is not relieved if he is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating. For example, an office employee who is required to eat at his desk or a factory worker who is required to be at his machine is working while eating. (Culkin v. Glenn L. Martin, Nebraska Co., 97 F. Supp. 661 (D. Neb. 1951), aff'd 197 F. 2d 981 (C.A. 8, 1952), cert. denied 344 U.S. 888 (1952); Thompson v. Stock & Sons, Inc., 93 F. Supp. 213 (E.D. Mich 1950), aff'd 194 F. 2d 493 (C.A. 6, 1952); Biggs v. Joshua Hendy Corp., 183 F. 2d 515 (C. A. 9, 1950), 187 F. 2d 447 (C.A. 9, 1951); Walling v. Dunbar Transfer & Storage Co., 3 W.H. Cases 284; 7 Labor Cases para. 61.565 (W.D. Tenn. 1943); Lofton v. Seneca Coal and Coke Co., 2 W.H. Cases 669; 6 Labor Cases para. 61,271 (N.D. Okla. 1942); aff'd 136 F. 2d 359 (C.A. 10, 1943); cert. denied 320 U.S. 772 (1943); Mitchell v. Tampa Cigar Co., 36 Labor Cases para. 65, 198, 14 W.H. Cases 38 (S.D. Fla. 1959); Douglass v. Hurwitz Co., 145 F. Supp. 29, 13 W.H. Cases (E.D. Pa. 1956))

(b) Where no permission to leave premises. It is not necessary that an employee be permitted to leave the premises if he is otherwise completely freed from duties during the meal period.

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  • In addition I've worked places where smokers or those with religious reasons (muslims needing to pray for example) were given extra breaks. Eventually the number of smokers and "muslims" increases dramatically. har har. – HenryM Sep 1 '20 at 21:19
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A left-field thought (to be read as a complement to the other, more orthodox answers given previously): in my experience, when "the management" of a large(ish) organisation gives employees an instruction that's ridiculous, dangerous, and/or potentially unlawful (after careful reflection, not just at a glance), it's often the result of an individual middle- or senior manager trying to make and impose a unilateral decision, in a domain in which, under the organisation's "constitution" [*], s/he has no legitimate authority to make a unilateral decision.

Hence, my broad-strokes answer to 'What we as employees could do' is: make sure you're familiar with the constitutional arrangements of the organisation for which you work. In terms of @BernhardBarker's language of risks associated with various reactions to a management instruction, the risks of objecting to or ignoring an instruction are somewhat less (but still not zero) if the instruction is not legitimately given.

[*] In your organisation, the "constitution" may go by a different name(s), such as "statutes", "charter", "bye-laws", "instrument", "articles", "memorandum of association", "articles of association", "rules of procedure", and/or "scheme of delegation".

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To beat the system, you could use a Mouse Jiggler or a software equivalent. You could also use AutoHotkey to change between tabs, programs and/or write text or commands.

If you want to block the reports instead, then you must use an external firewall and keep a close eye in your DNS records, specially "TXT records". Note that you can’t trust Windows firewall as most (if not all) commercial products will automatically add rules to allow their traffic plus a schedule task to reinstate them automatically.

Moreover, as i said before, you must monitor all DNS requests. Then, armed with the list of IPs ports and essential domains, block everything else not strictly needed to your work with an external firewall. Heck, you can do it all in a Raspberry PI Zero for around 5 bucks (PI-Hole / PFSense).

These days, almost all "corporative" pings, license checks, remote wipes and remote command execution are made by DNS queries (mainly TXT records) because they aren’t usually being monitored by most firewalls out there.

As such first and foremost monitor all DNS queries and then use an external firewall for enforcing it. You may also use a VM and re-route all your traffic through it. Ie: trough Virtual Box or something similar. In this case, just capture the network card in VM or use an USB one, set your Virtual Box interface in "Host-only" and re-route all your traffic through the VM.

Remember, your Internet your rules.

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    "Remember, your Internet your rules" - Not necessarily. If the OP has to connect to a work VPN, then it's the situation becomes tricky at best. And if it's OP's workplace computer, all bets are off. – BruceWayne Sep 1 '20 at 16:47
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    +1 for "mouse jiggler". I am amused to learn that such a contraption exists. – Seldom 'Where's Monica' Needy Sep 1 '20 at 17:08
  • How you figure? Company is paying for the internet, the equipment, and setting the terms of employment. "Your internet, your rules" is right...except in this case "your" = the company – NKCampbell Sep 1 '20 at 18:18
  • @SeldomNeedy I use the fact that modern computers are happy to have multiple mice and in cases like this attach a small optical USB mouse lying on my wristwatch. – Pavel Sep 1 '20 at 19:17
  • @SeldomNeedy yes, Mouse Jigglers are very helpful; we've probably all seen screen-savers kick in during presentations. Also when e.g. using two computers and you can't turn off the screen-saver on the second, or using a lab computer for automation and your hands and attention are on test equipment. – Technophile Sep 1 '20 at 19:38
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Your management has handed down an unreasonable requirement.

There are two reasons this happens:

Either:

Someone in charge is so profoundly disconnected from reality that they simply cannot comprehend that things do not work the way that they wish they did. This is actually pretty rare.

Or:

That person does understand that nobody will actually meet those expectations, but believes that dangling the unachievable goal out in front of people will encourage them to work harder to meet it. This is far more likely.

If nobody can meet the requirement, chances are somewhat high that the requirement will shift - because this is in it's early stages, what you're currently experiencing is a likely calibration process for acquiring reasonable expectations.

Do your best to track your time honestly, try your best to make sure your colleagues are on the same page about how to address common 'oddities' with tracking time, and keep an open dialogue with your immediate supervisor and stay transparent about your difficulties with the software.

It is paramount to keep solidarity on your team so that your individual data stays consistent with regards to each other. If people start trying to game the system, you'll undermine management's ability to form realistic expectations based off the reality in front of them.

A few months in a large organization is a relatively short time. It is somewhat unsurprising that their expectations have not yet shifted - this is likely someone's pet project, and they are likely several degrees removed from anyone who is actually working, and have several layers of people in between who are afraid of communicating undesirable information to them.

Your antidote here is to make sure that ALL information that gets back up to that person is undesirable, as your only chance to change this is to make it overwhelmingly clear that their expectations cannot match reality.

Once this battle has finally been fought on fair and even footing above your head with real data, your org can start having reasonable conversations about whether or not this is even worth the effort, and what a reasonable bar to measure employee productivity might actually look like.

It is likely that process will take several more months to achieve any progress. Those months will be painful, and frankly if your management is incompetent enough to believe in this kind of time tracking, it likely is not worth the effort to try to salvage your position.

However, if you are invested in this specific position due to a lack of opportunity elsewhere or some other reason, and you've given this situation a few more months to settle into something more reasonable and it hasn't, your only remaining option is going to be to try to organize some kind of collective counter-action.

If your org has attempted to play ball, proven empirically that playing ball is not possible, and management still hasn't changed their position, the only way to shift the needle is via collective bargaining.

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In order to tackle this, it's important to know if you really need to work on that software, e.g. if your job consists at writing text, you might write that text in another editor, switch to that program, do a copy-paste, and get back to your editor.

Like this, it looks towards management as if you are only working with that program for 5 to 10 minutes, but in that time you have done a complete job.

This will mess up the statistics and it might discourage management taking any decisions, based on those statistics.

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It's really simple. You want to find a new job.

You can cheat by emulating mouse, you can complain to HR, you can start legal war. But path of least resistance is to quit your job and find new one. High level solution is to move to management or switch field entirely. Low level IT/coder will be mistreated like this sooner or later, for one or another reason (most likely because of age). Hard pill to swallow.

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