In the field of software development, bottom lines are the name of the game, especially when a product launch is due in a few weeks. The crunch sets in and employees must react—often by pouring long hours in front of their laptops. This phenomenon may lead to the misconception that supervisors who are obsessed with bottom lines inspire employees to work harder and faster. A recent study conducted by Baylor reveals that this is not the case. Instead, according to Baylor’s study, “supervisors driven by profits could actually be hurting their coveted bottom lines by losing the respect of their employees, who counter by withholding performance.”
The above observation is echoed in a Hacker New’s comment about time-tracking employees. jlokier, a Hacker News user, quoted another user who said, “My boss knew how long [a] particular task took and asked if I need some help afterwards. It was great support and mentoring. But I now experience exact the opposite. My managers come to me if it took me longer [the] second time than [the] first time to complain about me being to slow.” jlokier followed up the quote by writing that the example presented in the quote “produces a misalignment of incentives: If you do a great job one week getting visible things out the door, then you’re punished for the rest of your time in that job, rather than rewarded for doing great. So you know in advance, it’s better to deliver slower all the time.”
Time-tracking is just one method that a bottom line driven supervisor can employ to goad employees to work faster. A Harvard Business Review article refers to the use of tactics such as time-tracking to force results as the weaponization of data. Using data to churn out performance can create the wrong type of incentives. According to the Baylor study, this approach creates low quality relationships between supervisors and employees, which causes employees to withhold performance.
The problem is that this may not be made obvious to supervisors. Withholding performance may mean that employees become better at creating the illusion of performance. Workstations may be awash with multiple windows featuring terminals when the supervisor is around only to be replaced by social media. Rather than taking breaks, employees may spend more time in their chairs, banging their head against a problem that may have been solved if they didn’t feel they had to prove that they were working steadfastly towards the bottom line.
An interesting piece of information that the Baylor study uncovered is that even if supervisors and employees have high bottom line mentalities, performance still decreases. The researchers concluded that “even if employees maintain a BLM, they would prefer for their managers to focus on interpersonal aspects of the job that foster healthier social exchange relationships with their employees in addition to the bottom line.”
The lesson to take away from this is that focusing on the amoral underpinning of a company(ie. profits) may not be the greatest motivation for a worker. Rather, focusing on the social benefit of the product(s) along with fostering healthy work relationships may be the way to go.