Even our Jokes are Terrifying Windows into the Dark Side of Work

In the second episode of The Busyness Paradox, we tried our hand at satire with a fake ad for a preposterously invasive employee-tracking software service called “HR Tracker.” Seemed preposterous to us at least.

A few listeners kindly let us know they’d gotten a chuckle out of the bit. One asked if we were aware of a real-life product called Time Doctor. We were not. We were happier that way.

Time Doctor does some perfectly good things. Time-tracking for hourly billing, activity-based costing, forecasting…all good stuff. I can even abide the website monitoring. But keystroke logging? Screenshot capturing? Secretly photographing employees through their webcams?

Of course, we were aware that employee-tracking software like this existed. I even wrote a post about it here a few months back (“When Your Boss Becomes Big Brother”). What I didn’t know at the time was how brazenly these “bossware” products advertised themselves as such. But hey, truth in advertising isn’t a bad thing.

What concerns me more is this 2019 review of Time Doctor by PCMag. If it wasn’t for terrifying Orwellian words like “This is beneficial for companies whose employees perform repetitive tasks and don’t want to go into the system to create new tasks each time they want to be tracked” (want to be tracked?) scattered about, this could just as easily be a review of Microsoft Office or a new web browser. Here are a few excerpts, annotated for your amusement:

  • “If you want to micro-manage your micro-management capabilities” – Please don’t.
  • “This is a great feature for Big Brother-level oversight, but it makes using the tool a bit annoying because you’ll need to flip from desktop app to web-based app if you’re a user as well as an admin (or you’ll be forced to use Chrome, which isn’t the worst thing in the world but still an annoyance).” – Gosh.
  • “Time Doctor is so clever that measurements won’t be taken precisely at that interval so people can’t cheat the system by tapping random keys every third minute.” – Ok, if you’re a manager who has a legitimate use case for software that ensures your employees aren’t just tapping a random key every three minutes…with all due respect, maybe management just isn’t your thing?
  • “Time Doctor even provides a ‘Poor Time Use’ report that tracks how much time your employees spend on social media, news websites, or any other websites you deem off-limits. Unfortunately, this feature won’t tell you if employees were doing something productive on another screen, so employees who like to listen to the news while performing data entry will be logged as time-wasters even though they still got their jobs done.” – If you’ve listened to even one episode of our show you’ll know our stance on this.
  • “At this point, Time Doctor can’t grab screenshots on mobile devices, but it can track worker location via GPS.” – I’m not sure I knew the phrase “At this point” could be so unsettling.
  • “Unlike Hubstaff, which also offers in-depth monitoring, Time Doctor’s webcam shot feature lets admins snap images of remote workers in 10-minute intervals (make sure you slip on a robe if you plan to work from home).” – Oh PCMag, what a bunch of kidders. And, apparently, Time Doctor has at least one competitor in the employee-tracking market (yeah, there’s others besides Hubstaff, I know. I know.)

There may be some jobs and industries where this level of employee surveillance is justified. I don’t know what they are or how they got on before this new-age employee-tracking technologically existed, but I’ll concede that some company, somewhere might have this need. But this software isn’t being sold to whatever niche that company is in. It’s a mass-market product and is apparently being reviewed as such. We’re not the only ones who think that’s weird, right?

Screen-capture of an advertisement for Time Doctor Employee-Tracking Software
Advertisement for Time Doctor Employee-Tracking Software on LinkedIn.

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