Ask a Manager in the media

Here’s some coverage of Ask a Manager in the media recently:

I talked to the Washington Post about some employers’ increased monitoring of employees now that so many people are working from home.

I talked to NPR about the same topic.

I talked to Kiplinger about what protections you have if you don’t want to return to your office.

I was on Kiplinger’s “Your Money’s Worth” podcast to talk about how to navigate offices re-opening. (My segment starts at 10:23 and is about 10 minutes.)

Jon Hyman, the excellent employment lawyer who runs the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, weighed in on last week’s letter about the employee who thinks coronavirus is a hoax.

{ 30 comments… read them below }

  1. Asymmetrical Warfare*

    I follow Jon Hyman on LinkedIn; his stuff is awesome. After reading his posts I follow a lot of HR lawyers. I’ve learned so much from them.

  2. NW Mossy*

    That article from WaPo takes a strong stomach to read! Alison, I’m so glad you were cited as a sensible counterweight to the disturbing level of enthusiasm some of the other sources have for constant digital monitoring of employees.

    Full disclosure: I sometimes go longer than 15 seconds without using my keyboard or mouse because I capture some notes with paper and pen.

    1. Lady Heather*

      I am a lot more productive when I am thinking about the right way to phrase Very Important Sensitive Email than I am moving my mouse every fifteen seconds.

      I also question the motives of any company that is more concerned with how much time I spend being productive than how much work I produce.

      1. NerdyPrettyThings*

        THIS. If your boss can’t tell whether you’re doing your job by your results, they are not a good boss.

    2. nm*

      Truly, unless your business requires no thinking whatsoever, I would be alarmed if my employees *didnt* go 15 seconds without using their mouse and keyboard

    3. MistOrMister*

      Maybe I’m in the minority, but it takes me more than 15 seconds to use the restroom or get myself a glass of water. Mind boggling to think quick tasks like that will make you look like you’re slacking off all day!! I also really did not like the bit about the software taking pictures of you constantly throughout the day. If one chooses to pick their nose in the privacy of their own home they shouldn’t end up with that randomly caught on camera for all of their coworkers to see!! And what about when something engrages me and I need to yell at the computer? Now I’d have to get out of sight for 14.9 seconds to scream into the void. Unless they make it so the mics have to be on too… Most of that tracking software seems go be based on poor management. If you didn’t need to make sure people weren’t taking 16 or (gasp!!) 17 second breaks in the office, why do you need to make sure they don’t do it at home? I’ve never worked anywhere that had enough supervisors to keep eyes on everybody for every second of the day, so why is software that does basically that suddenly needed desperately by some of these places?

      1. Slinky*

        It probably takes me 5 second each way to get to the bathroom. If the layout of my home were different, then it would take longer. Given that hand-washing should take at least 20 seconds, this is an utterly unreasonable expectation.

    4. On Fire*

      Yes, that whole thing was horrifying. I would develop serious connectivity issues to prevent developing serious mental health issues! Thanks to Alison for providing a voice of reason — and to the reporter for actually *including* a voice of reason.

    5. Slinky*

      Yes, I was reading it during my lunch break and kept exclaiming out loud, which was very concerning to my spouse.

      My employer has handled COVID far from perfectly, but right now, I am so happy I work where I do! My employer trusts me to get my work done without monitoring me. If they ever wondered if I was getting work done, they’d check my work output, not take random screenshots or monitor me via webcam. In addition, they’ve been super understanding of that fact that we’re all going to be less productive right now because, you know, multiple global crises. I have emphasized to my team over and over that any work we get done right now is a bonus because times are HARD and sometimes you just can’t.

  3. KuklaRed*

    You are high profile!! I’m so glad to see all the coverage. You help make sense of the workplace, which is more important now than ever before.

  4. Jen P*

    I read the Post article. They can take a pic from your webcam and post for all to see? Which is “fun”? Mocking your co-workers publicly is now fun?! Holy cow.

    1. MayLou*

      I would quit. I wouldn’t be able to get any work done because I would be constantly worried about when my computer might take a photo of me. I can’t believe anyone thinks this is acceptable.

  5. D3*

    That Washington Post article – executives INSISTING that the tracking software is all about social and people need it for mental health. employees saying it’s stressing them out, invasive and detrimental to mental health.
    The disconnect is…so glaring and upsetting.
    “We’re doing this for your own good. Just submit. It will be better for you.”

    1. Mockingjay*

      Dave Eggers’ book “The Circle” painted a disturbing picture of a world divided exactly like this: those who embrace 24/7 connections in all aspects of life – work and play, and those who want to retain some semblance of privacy and boundaries.

      I hope privacy wins out, but I’m doubtful. My husband and I joke about going off the grid in retirement – but I’m kinda liking the idea.

      I’m thankful that after trying a few half-baked ideas, my company settled quite nicely into the telework routine for all employees, without a lot of invasive monitoring. We just have to submit a weekly report of accomplishments. I can handle that.

  6. possum whisperer*

    With so many folks working from home,it seems like the line between “work” and “home” is becoming blurred,much to the employers advantage. Now with so many tracking apps being made and used,just going to use the bathroom or get something to eat can make someone appear to be slacking off.I would hope that folks would push back hard against the always on camera and microphone situation.Thats messed up on so many levels.Yes,people are working,but they are IN THIER OWN HOMES!! Im sure folks do things at home,even whole working,that they wouldnt do in the office.Im sure they fart,beltch,pick their nose,scratch their butt…all manner of things that now the employer,with their always on spyware,are now seeing and possibly recording.Not to mention anyone else who happens to get withing range.It seems that folks can expect privacy during work hours,even in their own homes.Fortunatly,my job cant be done from home,but my wife does.If her employer has one of these apps on her work computer,theres no telling what they kind of sights and sounds they’ve captured when I happen to be home when she’s working.(Because my wife doe not fart,nor belch,nor,scratch her butt and turns 29 this year,just like last year and the year before.)

  7. aubrey*

    The tracking software and always on webcams etc are just appalling. I don’t even do video calls for work and am so glad to be at a point in my career where that can just be a line I draw. None of us at my all-remote company do video calls and many of us have met in person only a few times. It’s fine, just a non-issue.

    Being able to not worry about what I look like is a huge benefit to working from home, and nobody at work needs to see what my house looks like. I can’t imagine being productive at all if I was always watched, never mind the effect it would have on my mental health. I hope companies burn themselves out on this nonsense during the pandemic and this doesn’t turn into standard for remote work.

  8. nm*

    Make no mistake, it may take a while but the job market will recover, and when it does, employees at companies that use heavy tracking software will bail like mice on a sinking ship.

  9. Working Hypothesis*

    I was glad to see you talk (in Kiplinger) about negotiating with your employer if you need to stay home longer for Covid related reasons, ever if they aren’t officially covered. My husband is high risk and I’m marginally high risk (50, a little overweight and the wrong blood type), and I have zero interest in going back to work until I can be vaccinated with something I have good reason to believe is going to be an effective preventative!! Thankfully, my boss couldn’t be more understanding about it, even though my work is hands-on health care that cannot be done from a distance, so remote work isn’t an option… I simply have to not work till I’m ready to return.

    My family can go without my income for the next several months, even though it won’t be easy or comfortable. My boss has told me warmly that she entirely understands and that she wants me to feel comfortable when I do come back to work, so I’m on indefinite furlough by my own request, with the assurance that my job will be there for me whenever I want to return. (I can trust this in large part because my industry is *always* hiring… even if they replace me, I know they’ll want more practitioners whenever I am ready to return.)

    So I wait, and when I can get a vaccine that the science says is trustworthy, I’ll call her and ask to come back. It’s not fun being away from a career I love, nor trying to manage on one salary, but this all could be so much worse for us if my boss hadn’t been awesome about the whole thing.

    1. WS*

      Yes, I work in healthcare and have had two employees take this option. We make work as safe as possible, but it’s absolutely not 100% safe or 100% controllable. And that’s the nature of a pandemic!

  10. not always right*

    I am retired now, but if I were still working from home and my employer chose to monitor me so closely, they would see me with tears in my eyes from frustration along with many grumblings about how on earth can they expect 100% output when my internet connection is so dubious. (I live out in the boonies and my choices are dial up or satellite.) My satellite is metered because the so call unlimited plan is too expensive, and if you see the fine print, gets throttled down to almost the same slow speed as I get when I run out of data. If nothing else, Covid-19 made it 100% clear that it was time for me to retire. Now the bags under my eyes are gone, my hair is shinier and healthier than it has been in years and I have lost 10 pounds in just 2 months.

  11. beanie gee*

    Thank you Alison for being a voice of reason in these crazy times! It’s sad that businesses and managers need to hear everything you wrote, but I see more and more signs of management gone crazy in how they manage remote employees but also how they communicate with employees concerned about their safety or paycheck.

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