Legendary management expert Peter Drucker makes a strong case for time tracking software in one of his most famous quotes:
What gets measured, gets improved.
Now more than ever, organizations are taking this advice to heart, developing metrics to measure employee satisfaction, talent sourcing, employee wellness, and many other aspects of the workplace experience. All of these metrics share a common thread: how employees spend their time.
Tracking Time vs. Defining Productivity
Here’s the question: if what you measure is what you improve, then what do you measure to improve productivity? The answer to this question differs for every position in your organization. For production and knowledge-based employees, productivity may entail producing items or completing projects, while for service-based employees, productivity means hours spent serving customers.
With so much variation in productivity metrics and so little time to measure them, it’s no wonder that many organizations focus on in-chair hours. Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report includes one extreme example where a company installed body heat detectors to track how many hours people spent in the office.
As you can imagine, employees reacted poorly, as the report says, “swamping managers with complaints and leaking unflattering stories to the media.” Instead of promoting productivity during working hours, this combination of policy and tech made employees feel that their organization didn’t trust them to be in the office earning their salary or putting in their hours without supervision.
Employees want their real productivity to be recognized. At the same time, managers can feel pressure from their organizations to prove and improve the performance of their teams. Maintaining this balance without sacrificing employee trust and autonomy can be a difficult task, especially if you’re doing it manually with email messages or spreadsheets.
And to top it off, there’s an added biological barrier to effective time tracking: how humans perceive the passage of time.
How the Brain Stretches Time
Multiple studies have shown that when the human brain is healthy, it distorts time perception to fit its needs. From slowing down time in a dangerous situation to making an exciting 90-minute movie pass in the blink of an eye, your brain optimizes your experience with a shift in focus. Chemicals in your brain protect it from getting so stressed out that it loses the ability to make decisions.
Because this defensive mechanism needs to be ready at a moment’s notice, there’s a small but constant stream of time-dilation neurotransmitters running through your brain. This means people tend to underestimate how much time they’ve spent on an activity unless there’s an external way of measuring it. This holds true whether you’re caught up in a meaningful project or having a “quick” GIF battle in the team chat—it almost always takes longer than you think it does.
This time compression effect often leads to a mismatch in the employee experience and strict accountability for time spent. It also explains why it can be so hard for people to give accurate time estimates for projects without extensive experience and discipline, or to think back and evaluate the time they’ve spent on a project they just completed. The process can make employees feel like suspects without a strong alibi when their managers ask for an accounting of how they spend their time.
When is it Time for Time Tracking Software?
Time tracking software gives employees a tool to counter the time compression effect and stay accountable—both to themselves and to your organization—for how they spend their time. It also helps management and HR stay accountable for how their actions are affecting employee productivity and the organization’s progress.
Just as time isn’t the only factor that influences employee productivity, time tracking software shouldn’t be the only tool for measuring employee performance. Time tracking does the most good when it seamlessly handles the administrative tasks involved with time, including payroll, overtime, holiday hours, and benefits integration.
When it’s easy for employees to submit timesheets and for managers to review them, it frees up time for them to meet together and focus on the qualitative parts of performance management. These include informal feedback, regular one-on-one meetings, peer review, and quarterly performance benchmarks. These regular meetings help employees take proactive accountability for their work, accepting praise for their good work and asking for feedback to help with their shortcomings. And when managers report on their teams, they can present qualitative information that gets at the employee’s real performance.
Managing both time and performance with the right software does more than show when employees are coming to work. It also demonstrates how employees are progressing and where the organization is headed. Taken together, these measurements go a long way toward improving your organization, both as a place to work and in accomplishing its main objectives.