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Terrible Manager Thinks Constant Employee Surveillance Equals Work-Life Balance

In this still-new world of virtual work for office drones everywhere, it’s inevitable that some people find the adjustment to work-from-home harder than others. For some people, their issues revolved around muddy work schedules and a crumbling routine. For others, however, work-from-home exposed one basic fact that has probably been known for quite some time but never acknowledged: some managers have no business managing.

Any of us who have ever worked from home in any capacity under the thumb of bad management know that we’re often expected to justify our output through constant communication. After all, in the mind of a bad manager you can’t possibly be working if they can’t physically observe your butt in an office chair in front of a monitor. So a flood of emails, texts, and instant messages are the next best thing. God forbid you’re taking a shit when that 25th message comes through asking for the status on an item you gave the status on yesterday. Good managers know the work is done because, well, the work is done but the bad ones need a little more than that. The really bad ones need even more.

When I saw this letter to The Cut’s Ask a Boss column yesterday, I immediately thought of the many complaints we’ve heard over the years about bad management in public accounting.

My boss has announced that while we’re all working from home, the entire company will now be spending the whole work day on a Zoom call with video. He framed it as being for our benefit: useful for “establishing a work-life balance” and so we can “see our co-workers and feel like we’re back in the office.” Plus, it’s supposedly so we can “ask questions without having to take meetings.” While we are a small company, most of the people I work with already worked in another location before we went remote, and none of us do similar work. I can think of no world where this is helpful or anything but highly distracting.

But don’t worry, we are still allowed to have bathroom breaks and get snacks (wow, thanks so much!), though the majority of our work day should be spent in this weird online room with video and we are supposed to be “dressed for work.” It is obviously insulting and a poorly disguised attempt to micromanage. It’s especially frustrating because during this time I have taken on additional responsibilities and my output has increased.

The irony here being that Bad Manager frames this NSA-like intrusion with work-life balance. You’re lonely! You miss the office! Look, we can all be together like a family from the hours of 9-5 or actually more like 8-7:30 on a good day. Also, don’t forget to wear pants.

Considering even literal children currently doing homeschool aren’t required to sit in front of their monitors with the camera on for eight hours a day, it really makes no sense to treat working adults like the next April the Giraffe. This isn’t a traffic cam, it’s a living, breathing human. A human who, I may remind you, your company hired at some point to perform tasks for you in exchange for money. Unless their cubicle was under constant surveillance back when people were still in the office (which… well… that would be a whole other issue), leave them the hell alone at home. Yes, there may be some screwing around. Hell, someone might even — gasp — take a nap in the middle of the afternoon. As long as the work is getting done WHO CARES.

The Cut response properly identifies this paranoia as a them problem, as in managers who were already bad to begin with were absolutely terrified by work-from-home as it further exposed their inability to measure output, other than “person in chair” = work being done. Unless your job involves assembling widgets at a factory (and let’s be real, even then factory managers can measure output by widget rather than by individual employees being in their expected places), hours in chair rarely translates to quantity of work completed.

Writes The Cut:

Irritatingly, yours isn’t the first letter I’ve received about managers with this video requirement since the pandemic started. These are managers who probably weren’t especially skilled at leading teams when everyone was in the same location, and now that people are at home, they’re freaking out. They genuinely don’t know how to ensure people are working or how to hold them accountable from afar, so they’ve settled on “I will watch you all day long” as a substitute. (And in case there’s any doubt, the way you know if people are working is by paying attention to their output. Is work getting done? Are goals being met? If so, you can safely trust that your staff isn’t just filming TikTok videos all day.)

We hope every bad manager reading this has a moment of clarity and realizes if you don’t trust your staff, that’s on you. And if you even for a second considered implementing always-on video as a way of ensuring you’re getting the output you want, well your firm is bad too for promoting you rather than giving you the boot years ago when it became obvious that you have no idea how to lead a team.

4 thoughts on “Terrible Manager Thinks Constant Employee Surveillance Equals Work-Life Balance

  1. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence. A local firm I have peers at does this for new hires and interns. They sit on the zoom call all day long with their senior and ask questions. Sounds like a terrible use of your home internet bandwidth.

    1. To be fair, your average new hire or intern spends 40-50% of their time in someone else’s office or cubicle anyway, so for those folks, this is really just a change of venue.

      For experienced staff…. not cool.

  2. What’s Gonna Happen When there is no more Internet to keep tabs on everyone. & It’s Not if! It’s When ? then people Will Have yo go back to Old School & Old Wys
    & Alot of People Wont know how to Write, Spell or Otherwise It Won’t Heart my feelings Alot of People nowadays are Lazy & Stupid

  3. Some employees don’t have the discipline to work at home. Others have the additional time to get work done. Job descriptions & pay for performance often level the playing field.

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