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Ask Slashdot: When Does Time Tracking at Work Go Too Far? 630

An anonymous reader writes "I work in a call center, full time, for a large mail order pharmacy. Recently, as part of their campaign to better track time spent both at and away from our desks, they have started tracking bathroom breaks. They use a Cisco phone system, and there is now a clock out option that says 'Bathroom.' My question is whether or not this is in any way acceptable in a large corporate environment (Around 800 people work at this same pharmacy) and is it even legal? How invasive would this really be considered, and beyond privacy concerns, how are they going to deal with the humiliation that their employees feel as a result of this? Has this happened to any of you?"
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Ask Slashdot: When Does Time Tracking at Work Go Too Far?

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  • by overlook77 ( 988190 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @09:27AM (#41351887)
    Your company should track all "Personal Breaks" together and not specify whether it's a bathroom break or not. A personal break would be a smoke break, getting water/food, bathroom, etc. There is no reason to break it down further in my opinion. I'm a call center manager, and at our company we lump all that stuff together. At the end of the month if someone is not meeting their percent time work goals we can see how much of the problem is attributed to personal breaks vs. other things, such as off the phone research. But I personally don't want to know that someone was taking a dump for 20 min.
  • I see it both ways (Score:4, Interesting)

    by adosch ( 1397357 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @09:38AM (#41351963)
    I do have to say I do feel a bit of empathy for OP. I'm sure if I had to 'time' my bathroom breaks after going to a Mongolian grill for lunch, I'd be a bit embarrassed to mark that down as well. All jokes aside, I do go back and forth on this subject of time tracking. I'd say inherently, company time gets more abused than treated as a flexible privilege. At my work in salaried careers, I see people taking 'multiple' breaks during the day that total up to 'hours' (yes not an hour, hours), plus smoke breaks, plus water cooler talk, plus BS about random subjects at their desk, 2+ hour lunch breaks, showing-up-late-leave-early enough, work-from-home-because-I'm-expecting-the-UPS-guy, etc. that I start to question who tracks all this or even matches this all up on their time sheet at the end of the pay period. I don't have enough experience in call centers to really say why they are really driven on 'time' as their measurement medium. Bottom line, I like to keep things simple: Either some suit thought it would be a good idea to do that so they get a bonus for meeting some silly 'goal' they had to dream up or it's been enough of a abuse problem because employees have figured out bathroom breaks aren't measured against you and do not effect your bonus incentives, so to get an extra break, they claim a weak blatter.
  • by war4peace ( 1628283 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @09:39AM (#41351973)

    I worked for a couple years in a helpdesk organization where breaks were tracked. In my country you are legally entitled to 10 minutes break every hour. You can take 10x 1 minute, or 1x 10 minute, or even skip a few breaks and take a larger one. At the end of the day though, you should not have more than 90 minutes of breaks.
    This was tracked through Avaya CMS and usually there was no action taken even if those breaks were exceeded, as long as the offended didn't blatantly exceed his break quota for an extended amount of days.
    It depends a lot on how does the employer interpret that data. In my company, the processes and procedures are lax, there's usually no follow up unless someone really abuses breaks.
    Another reason for monitoring is capacity management. You wouldn't want all your employees to go on breaks at the same time (some tend to group up when going for a smoke, that affects call flow and customers). There was a live report publicly displayed on every center using projectors, so that everyone could see whether they affect call flow or not by going in a break. Sometimes agents had a particularly nasty call and they needed to lay off the pressure by stepping away for a few minutes, and all they needed to do was ask for an exception, that was always granted. There was a guy who tried abusing that as well, so I had to talk to him for a few times and he finally got back in line.
    Monitoring your behavior while at work is okay. being absurd about the data is not. Fine line between those two.

  • Re:Unionize (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @09:42AM (#41352007)

    What a terrible first response. I mean fucking, stupidly, terrible. You don't unionize over a few bad practices, probably put in place by a stupid manager. You unionize when labor laws are obviously being violated.

    There is a distinct issue here of medical privacy that is most likely being violated. Tracking bathroom visits could be a way for someone to infer you have a medical condition.

    What you should do is seek an attorney who will look at this pro bono. They will probably tell you to start with your HR department with a complaint. It's all about the paper trail.

  • Re:Unionize (Score:5, Interesting)

    by digitalchinky ( 650880 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @09:47AM (#41352047)

    Although I agree with the sentiment, as a former vicidial / polycom consultant in all cases where I had to log toilet breaks the underlying reason was always driven by the clients, not the call agent employers. The call centers would prefer to log nothing at all, but the clients pay good money for analysis of the dialler logging. Take a look at the contracts and you'll get an idea of how detailed these agreements are. It sucks, but that's where the pay check comes from. If you push back too hard there are a hundred more centers that could be up and running with the same product in a few days.

  • Re:Honestly? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @09:52AM (#41352067)

    you don't 'stick it to the man', when you unionize, you equalize what HAS BECOME an increasingly unlevel playing ground.

    you show social responsibility when you fight to get a union installed in a bad company. and this surely sounds like they need some EQ there..

    and while it may be bad for those fighting, they'll make life better for those that follow.

    we USED to care about stuff like that. we used to. what happened to us? why do we have this 'got mine, fark you!' mentality?

    your grandparents - that fought for unions and a better work life for you - feel you have abandoned them and all the hard work they fought for!

  • by way2slo ( 151122 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @09:59AM (#41352149) Journal

    Lots of companies force employees to track their time. Even salary employees who legally do not have to punch a clock to get paid. That's fine. It helps them for future estimates and proposals involving labor hours. It can be a very valuable tool.

    However, all too often management begins to use these time tracking systems to try and shift overhead expenses to something billable to a customer. You walk in and read e-mails on billing guidance on how regular staff meetings, training, and even fire drills are billable to customers. Then another e-mail on billing guidance informs you that the normal overhead related billing is now forbidden unless given explicit authorization (that you will never get). Essentially, they are lying to themselves, that they have zero overhead when running their business. That nothing ever goes wrong and no one has to wait for anything.

    But the one thing they forget is that by charging their customers for everything, they are charging them too much for services. The business is now vulnerable to any other business that can provide the same service and not charge their overhead to the customer.

  • by CaroKann ( 795685 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @10:22AM (#41352303)
    I've noticed that when companies start to go overboard with the amount of time and/or project tracking detail people need to record, employees resort to just making stuff up. I'm not saying they out-right lie, but because it's impossible to have a system detailed enough to record every little thing that may happen in a work day, people will often just pick a generic bucket to dump time into for things they don't remember or don't know how to categorize.

    This defeats the purpose of installing these types of systems. Instead of simply not knowing exactly what employees are spending their time on, they now have an inaccurate or down-right false picture of what employees are doing. This can lead the management to make the wrong decisions on things such as when to hire or how to allocate resources, especially when they believe the data over their lower level managers.
  • Re:Unionize (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @10:24AM (#41352317)

    Because organized labor is detrimental to the economy and a joke.

    Yeah, just look at Germany. Probably the strongest unions anywhere in the world, and look where it's gotten them. The economy in the ruins, all labour outsourced to India, poor hungry people roaming the streets, right? /sarcasm

  • Re:Short answer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CrashandDie ( 1114135 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @10:43AM (#41352453)

    They can't. If they hit the bathroom break button, it changes their state, and they won't get any calls.

    I'm the lead dev / product manager for a software VoIP callcentre solution. We've had to develop features such as "don't allow an agent to take a bathroom break if there aren't enough agents available, or the waiting queue is too big, or if the estimated waiting is over X".

    Supervisors will spend the day looking at the monitor, constantly checking how many calls are waiting, how long each agent is on the line. They will put themselves in "whisper" mode, so they can yell at the agent, without the customer hearing anything. If you're ever on the line with a callcentre drone, and he suddenly starts taking time to answer, or suddenly starts having trouble finding his words, it's probably a sign you're using up too much of his allotted per-call time, and getting the poor lad into trouble.

    We operate in France, so we've had to deal with a lot of employee-protection laws, but more often that not, our customers (the callcentre) will force us to override specific settings (the mandatory 2 second break after each call can be revoked if the last call was too long; hence not effective enough), even if they violate the law.

  • Re:Unionize (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <{tms} {at} {}> on Sunday September 16, 2012 @10:46AM (#41352473) Homepage

    The solution isn't government regulation. The solution is to encourage more corporations to start and grow in this country.

    Corporations are a government-created entity that allows investors to concentrate their wealth. If the government is going to create them, it must regulate them in the public interest. If you want more corporations, in order to allow more competition, you have to create a regulatory environment that prevents them from eating each other or getting too big to allow competition.

  • Re:Unionize (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @11:28AM (#41352821)

    I'm starting to suspect americans got conned once again, because your description of how your union worked sounds so far removed from how the unions I've been part of here in europe that you might as well be from another planet.

    For an example, "I was forced to quit my job there when the union didn't allow me to change my schedule due to lack of seniority." would not happen here, the only instance when the union would care about your schedule would be if you logged more than the legal maximum hours of overtime. The employer would care about your schedule, but here you'd be able to use your paid for parental leave to leave work in order to pick up your kids and there wouldn't be anything they could do about it (assuming they don't just start to making shit up, but that fight is what you supposedly have unions for, so not even that option will be cheap for them).

    as I said, accounts like yours makes me confused.

  • Re:Unionize (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cob666 ( 656740 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @11:57AM (#41353077) Homepage
    The OSHA rules for bathroom breaks are that the employer cannot deny reasonable access to the bathroom and can't REFUSE an employee's ability to take a bathroom break unless the employees absence would put other people on jeopardy (such as requiring a certain number of people to run a piece of machinery, which would require somebody else to fill in for the employee while on bathroom break).

    There are no laws that prohibit or restrict the employer from tracking bathroom breaks but the employee must be paid for all breaks less than 20 minutes. Also, from what I've read, there is nothing to prevent an employer from letting an employee go for excessive time away from their work area.

    As far as 'when does time tracking go too far?' An employer should definitely be able to track when employees are NOT actually working, I don't see a problem here unless the employer is restricting bathroom usage.
  • Re:Unionize (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @12:38PM (#41353411)

    Unions can be holdovers from a time where people were not so easy to get rid of.

    Although you are right to some extent, it is not often as easy as just firing everyone, but what does happen is that while the unions remain in place, all new initiatives head off to places like India or China that have no such things. Eventually, enough of the business moves that the workplaces can afford to lay everyone off in the US who is causing trouble. At that point the unions usually look out for their own survival and start caving in to businesses so that they can keep their members employed at all, and their own pockets lined.

    Having been a union member, and having seen the available "benefits", my experience is that for anything where you want an engaged and useful workforce, US unions are awful. I know some people bring up how German unions or some other ones do work better, and I have to do more research on it, but even assuming you can create a union that does not turn into a corrupt and useless feature that keeps the jobs of lazy "senior" employees on life support while making everyone join their closed shop, unions as they stand in the US are *not* what we need.

    The ways unions are, I wouldn't be surprised if the US-style unions did their best to force German-style unions out of their turf. Because that is what it comes down to sometimes with organized crime and political parties using unions as cash cows.

  • Re:Manager here (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gigne ( 990887 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @01:12PM (#41353675) Homepage Journal

    This. I also work in the industry. There is a massive amount of truth to what you say here, but there is some truth to the submitters fears.
    I deal daily with several large call centres all over the world. Each want different things from their "Bathroom break" metrics.

    1) Some outsourcer call centres' clients pay for these metrics. Usually as a summary figure on the campaign they paid for. These cleint pay big money for a campaign to be run, so they want to know everything... time waiting for a call, time on a call, time wrapping, time crapping etc etc.

    2) Call centres themselves want to know about their own figures. Everyone has targets, SLAs to work to. Knowing how productive you have been is sumarised, and not focussed on individuals. Sure if 50% of the day was spend in the bathroom, you need to do something about it!

    3) To use as ammo. If you have an underperformer, pain int he arse, or otherwise undesirable person you want rid of, this is good ammo. Getting rid of someone for putting "bathroom break" while actually smoking/talking/whatever is great for a falsifying records offense. Sickening but have seen done.

    3 is a little tinfoil hat, but I have seen this done more than once.

    In short, there is probably nothing to worry about here, its pretty normal in call centres.

    Also, submitter, dude, you posted on slashdot with a reasoned question... Surely a call centre is not for you? (ignore me if I am not seeing some big picture)

  • Re:Unionize (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ryanov ( 193048 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @01:59PM (#41354103)

    It would not surprise me to learn that this guy got bad information. I hear sometimes people complaining to me about things the union won't let them do, aka. things that the organization told them the union wouldn't let them do. Don't believe what HR tells you about your union.

  • Re:Unionize (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jemenake ( 595948 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @11:09AM (#41362829)

    corps have huge power. unions are there to balance it.

    I have this debate with my brother (who hates unions) all the time. I try to point out that unions are a reaction to crappy stuff that companies do to their workers. When you look at what many workers had to go through in order to unionize (like getting their skulls cracked by club-wielding strike breakers, or worse), there's no way you can argue that they went through all of that just for longer lunch breaks or so that it would be harder to fire them. In short, if corporations would stop trying to screw over their employees in every way imaginable, unions wouldn't be needed.

    But it's inherent in the system. I actually work at a business college, and we've got a "Human Resource Management" concentration. The notion that human beings are a "resource" (like an oil deposit or a vein of coal) from which the goal is to optimize the "yield"... it just turns my stomach. But this is the world we live in. Adam Smith pointed it out in Wealth of Nations... it's all about self-interest. The whole system is powered by everybody's (the workers', too, in all fairness) innate desire to screw over everybody else and get as much for themselves, so it's folly to expect the shareholders to voluntarily set that drive aside.

    As for the short term on how to deal with the OP's problem of being timed on their bathroom breaks: I'd start documenting all of your bathroom visits on RateMyPoo or something. Then, after a weekend of eating Thai food, when your boss asks about your 45-minute bathroom break, you can open your browser and show him/her the fecal carnage unleashed from what used to be your anus.

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