10 reasons why your time tracking initiatives will fail

Time tracking initiatives are inefficient and hurt employees'— and ultimately the company's — productivity.

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Time tracking is a staple in some organizations and often seems like an appealing idea to other companies that want to gain insight into what their employees do at work. I'm not talking about time clocks where staff members punch in and punch out, but rather the more onerous process of instructing employees to measure what they do all day, generally by category.

Categories vary based on the organization and the work. System administrators, for instance, might measure their time based on customer support, incident response, maintenance endeavors, training, documentation, new server builds, and so forth. They would then be tasked with filling out some sort of form (generally online) to account for their eight-hour workday every day.

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Management often promotes time tracking for benevolent purposes such as "to see if we need additional staffing" or "to determine areas requiring further training or education," but there are better ways to go about such processes. Not convinced?

Below are 10 reasons why you should avoid tracking employee time.

1. It adds overhead/workload

Whatever insights you hope to gain from evaluating time-tracking statistics will be significantly offset by the costs involved with these endeavors (you do pay your employees for their time, after all).

On paper, it might look like a five-minute chore to record what happened over an eight-hour day, but throughout the day these figures must be jotted down to ensure some semblance of accuracy when logging the information. So, if your employees are already doing too much, they're now going to do even more.

Which means...

2. It creates stress/resentment

What would IT professionals rather do: Fix stuff, or log time about fixing stuff? Not a hard question to answer. The added workload increases stress and resentment, but what's really driving that response will be the feeling of being micromanaged—or worse— that there is a lack of trust by management in their employees.

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3. It creates the potential to lose focus

There are already enough distractions when working with technology such as weird errors, cell phone interruptions, and user questions. Why introduce another one?

When facing a task, monitoring your watch, and deciding which category to file the task under detracts from your ability to throw 100% of your efforts behind completing the work. Even if you retroactively estimate time spent on your trackable effort then that interrupts your focus later in the workday.

4. It can detract from completing important work

One of the ironies of time tracking involves the time spent actually measuring your tasks for your daily summary. If you spend 20 minutes on that process that's 20 minutes not being spent on more important tasks.

For example, I could replace a bad disk drive in a server in about 20 minutes, something of far more value to a company than describing that I replaced said disk drive.

5. It costs the organization money

Time tracking doesn't entail an expense merely in employee labor, but the environment in which time is measured generally involves a cost. For instance, a website or application devoted to the purpose may entail hardware, software, and licensing fees, not to mention maintenance and administration. This money could be better spent elsewhere to get a better ROI for the organization.

6. It invariably leads to inaccurate/skewed results

I would estimate that even the most diligent and meticulous employee is probably only 75% accurate with their time documentation. The simple fact is that few if any, people will write down "seven minutes for correcting user Outlook problem" or "34 minutes to investigate/replace server RAM issue." People will round off for simplicity sake. That Outlook problem becomes a 15-minute chunk of time. The server repair work will be recorded as a 45-minute operation.

And to be even more explicit...

7. Time tracking encourages dishonesty

I'm not saying many or even most employees sharpen their creative writing skills and simply makeup purely bogus figures to account for each workday. However, fudging will happen, plain and simple.

That 30 minutes spent talking about the Super Bowl? That'll be listed as a "meeting."

The 20 minutes someone wasted coming back from lunch and getting a speeding ticket? That'll be filed under "documentation work."

Leaving early to pick up the kid from school? "Email time."

This probably won't turn employees into hardened criminals, but it's definitely encouraging a mindset of deliberately cutting corners and hiding details, which doesn't bode well for other technological endeavors conducted on behalf of the business.

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8. It can lead to a sense of futility

If time tracking is implemented under the guise of "examining staffing needs" or some other concrete purpose, employees will feel let down and deceived if that purpose is never actually explored through the data collected.

No one likes to conduct work, which is intended to just serve as an entry on someone's bureaucratic checklist. Worse, penalizing employees for not cooperating with time tracking requirements will generate real hostility if these activities have no discernible merit or results.

Which leads to my next point...

9. It can lead to resignation/talent loss

The eight problems discussed above can and likely will lead to a serious deficiency in organizational morale. Combined with other negative factors this can lead to employees seeking other jobs and taking their talent and skills elsewhere. How ironic that an endeavor often touted to "determine staffing needs" could very well end up requiring more staff to replace the workers who leave in disgust.

10. It's unnecessary

Finally, time tracking is unnecessary if you're truly trying to bring about change for the better. If you need to determine where skills gaps are, talk to your staff and find out. Discuss what they're working on, what they want to do, where the pain points and problems lie, and where they want to go in their careers both at your workplace and beyond, then respond accordingly with actual concrete measures.

Technology professionals are all adults and appreciate being treated as such. Making them accountable for their time including bathroom breaks demeans and devalues their efforts as well as their dedication to the company.

I can speak from experience as to the cumbersome nature of time tracking; I have been subjected to it and also freed from such obligations. I felt a palpable sense of joy when I became free to focus on my work and priorities, and this rekindled my love for technology as well as dedication to the organization.

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Image: Alexey Stiop, Getty Images/iStockphoto