A Great Way to Stifle Employee Morale

I was working for a small public relations and advertising firm at the time I first encountered the productivity report. As it was explained to us, we were to fill out said report and put it on the boss’ desk by quitting time each and every day. No exceptions. The form we were given was two-column table. In one column we were to write down our task and in the other, the time it took in increments of 15 minutes. There was a bit of grumbling but everyone dutifully shuffled off to the copier.

Genesis of a Really Bad Idea

There was some quiet, anxious discussion after the boss returned to her office. “Why was this happening?” and “What is she doing?” being two very common questions. It was not as if the boss was off-site. If she wanted to see if everyone was working, all she had to do was look out of her office door. She could see the whole office right there, spread out before her. That could not be it, could it? Actually, yes it could.

One of our little firm’s accounts was a fairly good-sized corporate accounting firm. It turns out that during a meeting, the client told her how his company was now using a productivity tracking scheme to make sure they were working at peak efficiency. With that particular bug firmly planted in her ear, our boss began to cast a jaded eye over her own employees. A few days later, the productivity report forms were handed out.

Creative People and Accountants Do Not Mix

This, of course, is not to say they cannot attend the same social functions. Rather, I mean that these different kinds of employee are so different that you, as a manager, cannot deal with them in the same ways. It also helps if they don’t sit close to each other, but that is another story. The upshot here is that while productivity reports with quarter-hour granularity might work for those with essentially bureaucratic functions, that does not mean that they are appropriate for everyone.

This was brought home the first day of our boss’ new program. I recalled one account executive who wrote “Worked on Johnson account” on each and every line, with the appropriate 15 minute time notations. He also broke down his lunch into time spent putting on his coat, walking to the elevator, pushing the button, waiting for said elevator—he noted the tune he hummed while waiting—and how much time it took to ride the elevator, cross the lobby, walk down the street, get seated, order, wait for the food, and then consume the appetizer, main course, side dish and drink. The rest of us were not much better.

The fact is that some people do not have jobs that are easily quantified. It might take me an hour to pump out one of these little blogs or I might spend most of the day on it. What qualifies as reportable work? That is another question. For an accountant, if you are working on a client’s books, that counts. What about me? Does it count only if I am typing? What about research? Does that count? Creative work does not really fit into quotas and creative people are not built to function well in such systems. Happily, by the end of the week our boss got the message and dropped the whole thing.

The grumbling was getting ugly. People were threatening to quit.

The Bottom Line

Managers have to realize that their employees do the jobs they do because, to a great measure, of who they are as people. Everyone wants to be respected for what they do, but when management comes up with something that runs counter to the prevailing culture in a given workplace, there is bound to be friction and pushback. A PR and Ad agency filled with creative people is not the sort of place one would like to implement management practices better suited for a more corporate or bureaucratic environment. Doing so only hurt morale and inspired people to polish their resumes. Had the complainers left as they said they would, this small business would have been crippled, if not morally wounded.

Before you run with some new management tool or technique, make sure that it is appropriate to your company culture and employees. There is nothing wrong with bolstering efficiency, but make sure your people understand what you are trying to accomplish and that the technique you use is as much a tool for your employees as for yourself.