There are some jobs where timekeeping really matters. If a shop has to open, call handlers need to answer the phone, a train needs to leave on time…. then those who do that work need to be there when they need to be there.
But this doesn’t apply to all jobs. It doesn’t apply to many of those that are doing the 9-5. For many, those working hours are simply a tradition of working lives.
I’ve worked at places where managers are obsessed with what time people walk in the door. They monitor it to the minute and the second. They even hold disciplinary hearings for breaches of these rules Only all too often, the time being managed is that of people and jobs where it just doesn’t matter all that much. For many roles, it isn’t the hours that you work that should matter but the results that you deliver and the impact you make. A little harder to monitor though, perhaps.
When those workers need to be there each hour and minute, I see the need for this sort of time management. Although like with any type of performance management, it’s all about how you do it.
There are two main approaches to managing people. One is to treat employees like adults, and the other is to treat them like children. Treating people like children includes getting employees to clock in and clock out when there’s no real need for them to do so. Treating them like children means monitoring activity over achievement. It means worrying about someone walking through the door at 9.04 instead of 8.58.
Fundamentally, what we are talking about, is trust.
I once had to talk a manager out of a system of financial penalties for lateness. I told him what he had planned was an unlawful deduction from wages. That ended the debate. But it was more than that of course. The work was of a nature that demanded emotional labour. Empathy and personal care. Financial deductions from wages would have changed the game. Led to unintended consequences. For those who were there simply for the money rather than the meaning, it just becomes part of the financial calculation. For the employee who was genuinely late for no fault of their own, damaging to engagement and their sense of meaning in what they do.
When I see managers who monitor the minutes, I often wonder whether, if they are so concerned about contractual hours, they are chasing those same employees out of the door at 5pm. This isn’t usually the case of course. It’s all about presenteeism in these sort of places and with those sort of managers.
I sit at my desk therefore I am. Hours equals dedication, in these sort of organisations.
If you have good people, trust them to do a good job.
If you don’t have good people, then do something about it.
If the minutes don’t matter, don’t monitor them.
If your employees aren’t children, don’t treat them like they are.
What time is it?